RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Tuesday marks the 400th anniversary of the first representative assembly in Jamestown, Virginia, but an event meant to honor the day was split in two shortly after the announcement that President Donald Trump would be involved.
Trump, whose recent Twitter and speaking events have been filled with racist dog whistles targeting minority Democratic leaders, lost Virginia in 2016, the only southern state to oppose him. Republicans haven’t won a race for statewide office in almost a decade and the Legislature has similarly shifted to the left, though it remains narrowly controlled by the GOP.
The Jamestown event – commemorating the meeting of the country’s first legislative assembly on July 30, 1619 – had been in the works for years, and trouble first started brewing when it was discovered Trump was invited by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam and Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox earlier this year.
Trump’s appearance, confirmed over the weekend, drew immediate pushback from those on the left.
Richmond’s black Democratic Mayor Levar Stoney resigned from the event planning board in protest after Trump’s speech was announced. The first elected black governor in America, Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, also spoke out against the event for its failure to properly honor enslaved people.
Stoney and many other Democratic state lawmakers chose to instead attend a hastily prepared event organized by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in Richmond.
While both events aimed to mark the anniversary of the foundation of American democracy, Richmond’s strove to emphasize the people who were brought there, against their will, to physically build it.
“Many people have said that this is the foundation of America’s greatest sin,” Richmond pastor the Reverend Sylvester Turner said as he told the story of Virginia’s founding, the first documented slaves who arrived as part of a Dutch trading vessel, and the state’s reliance on slaves and institutionalized racism in the centuries that followed.
“There has been a cloud that has hovered over this state, and our country, since that time,” he said.
State Delegate Charniele Herring, a Democrat who represents a district in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, told the crowd the decision not to attend the Jamestown event was not “petty and childish,” as critics had said.
“We are blamed for not being a gracious host,” she said. “I cannot be gracious in the face of racism and xenophobia, while people are caged at our borders…We chose to stand here today, in Richmond, for humanity and love.”
Meanwhile Trump’s 20-minute speech in Jamestown appeared free of drama and gaffes aside from Virginia Delegate Ibraheem Samirah standing up, holding a protest sign and declaring, “You can’t send us back, our home is Virginia.”
Though Trump sat quietly during the outburst, the president’s comments before to the event targeted those legislators who opposed his presence.
He reportedly said black members of the Virginia General Assembly who stayed in Richmond were going “against their own people” and that black people “love the job” he’s doing and are “happy as hell” with his recent comments about Baltimore and its Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat.
Trump’s anti-Baltimore Twitter rant started over the weekend and included calling the majority black city a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
The comments come two weeks after another Twitter tirade, which the House condemned as racist, targeting four freshman Democratic congresswomen of color. Trump said they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three of the four women were born in the U.S. and all are American citizens.
Virginia’s top Democrats are facing several scandals of their own. A photo on Governor Northam’s 1984 yearbook page shows someone in blackface next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe, but an independent investigation could not determine whether the person in blackface was Northam.
Shortly after the governor’s yearbook photo was released, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface in college for a talent show.
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, meanwhile, has faced sexual assault allegations from several former college classmates and campaign co-workers
None of the three men have heeded calls to resign.