Former FBI Director James Comey called Thursday for the removal of Confederate statues in Virginia’s capital in the wake of blackface scandals involving top statewide elected officials, in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
“Expressing bipartisan horror at blackface photos is essential, but removing the statues would show all of America that Virginia really has changed,” Comey writes.
“There is no doubt that Virginia’s leaders need to be held accountable for their personal history, but every Virginia leader is responsible for the racist symbols that still loom over our lives,” Comey writes.
Last week, a photo from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced showing one person in blackface and another dressed in the Ku Klux Klan’s signature white hood and robes. Northam initially apologized and said he was in the photo, but then said a day later that he was not one of the two people pictured. The governor said he had darkened his face to resemble Michael Jackson during a dance contest in 1984.
On Wednesday, Virginia was further plunged into chaos when Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he had appeared in blackface at a 1980 college party.
Comey writes that elected officials who wore blackface “or lied about it, shouldn’t hold office,” adding that “past actions matter.” He describes blackface as a “tool of white oppression.”
“White people designed blackface to keep black people down, to intimidate, mock and stereotype,” Comey writes.
“As a college kid in Virginia during the 1980s, I knew that, and so did my classmates,” he added.
But Comey argues that the Confederate statues are “much larger and more powerful symbols of that oppression – symbols born of a similar desire to keep black people down.” He describes them as “gigantic bronze embodiments of that same racism.”
“They loom over Virginians every day,” Comey writes. “If Virginia’s leaders want to atone for a troubling legacy, changing state law so Richmond’s statues no longer taunt the progress of our country would be a good place to start.”
The former FBI director argues that the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson “weren’t put up to celebrate history or heritage; they were put up as a message: The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution aren’t going to help you black folks because the South has risen from that humiliation. Jim Crow – a name rooted in blackface mockery – is king.”