Backlash in a small Virginia town was swift after a racist and sexist post showed up on the mayor’s Facebook page.
“Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick,” read the statement posted to the Facebook page of Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves.
The post was deleted once people on social media, including members of the Luray town council, called it out for being racist, the Washington Post reported. One council member called the mayor’s words “inappropriate,” another called for him to apologize and yet another called for his resignation.
But Presgraves seemed to suggest that his community was overreacting, telling a local news outlet, “Hell no, I’m not resigning.”
“I thought it was humorous,” Presgraves told Page Valley News. “I had no idea people would react the way they did. I think people have gone overboard on this … It’s an election year.”
While the social media post appeared on an account bearing Presgraves’ name, CNN has not confirmed that he was the writer.
CNN has reached out to Presgraves for comment, but has not yet heard back.
The Luray controversy comes as former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is narrowing down whom he’ll pick to be his running mate. Several of his contenders are Black women.
It also follows Quaker Oats’ announcement in June that it would retire the Aunt Jemima brand and logo, acknowledging its origins are based on a racial stereotype.
Councilman said he encouraged mayor to apologize
Luray town councilman Joey Sours said Tuesday that he had spoken to the mayor and had encouraged him to apologize publicly.
“The comments, which I find to be hurtful, divisive and potentially damaging to our community, do not in any way reflect my thoughts, feelings or values,” Sours said in a statement.
“I spoke with the mayor personally to encourage him to publicly apologize for sharing the meme, regardless of his intent, due to the resultant impact and to make every effort to rectify the situation.”
It was the first time Sours had “seen anything like this” from the mayor, he told CNN.
Though Sours condemned the statement posted to Presgraves’ Facebook page, he said the community should not rush to judgment.
“I encourage everyone in our community and the country at large – while condemning harmful words or actions is justified, we must not make the mistake of immediately condemning the individual,” he said.
“That only cements divisiveness as it prevents a means for dialogue that can bring healing and closure to the situation. This one comment need not define the man nor our community.”
Another council member calls for mayor’s resignation
Leah Pence, another member of the council, urged the mayor to resign.
“Mayor our community continues to be the center of negative attention due to your racist and sexist statement,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “Competent, educated black women are not mammies.”
Councilman Jerry Schiro said, “All racial comments are inappropriate,” and added that the town council would discuss the issue at its next meeting on August 10.
“Given the heighten (sic) sensitivity to racism in our country today, they are particularly concerning and divisive when made by elected officials,” he said in a statement to CNN.
“We are, and should be, held to higher standards in our thinking and actions. I can assure the citizens of Luray this type of thinking is not indicative of the Town Council Members or Staff.”
Sours said the council was considering calling a special meeting to discuss the issue before its regularly scheduled one on August 10.
The town council does not have the power to impeach the mayor, according to Sours.
A recall referendum would also be moot because the timing of elections would coincide with when Presgraves is set to leave office, Sours added. Presgraves, who has been Luray’s mayor for more than a decade, is not running for re-election this fall, Sours told CNN.
The town of Luray also acknowledged the incident in a Facebook post, citing its personnel policies manual.
“We believe that our employees and every person in our community deserves fair and just treatment. The many voices of our community welcome all to Luray,” the Facebook post reads. “The Town of Luray rejects racism and is committed to working together with the community through understanding, compassion, and opportunity.”
CNN’s Connor Spielmaker contributed to this report.