A group of black lawmakers in Virginia on Tuesday silently protested a resolution honoring Harry F. Byrd Jr., a former state and U.S. senator, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Byrd, who died in July at age 98, served in the state Senate for 18 years before holding a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia until 1983. He was also a vocal proponent of racial segregation in the 1950s who promoted the “Southern Manifesto,” a document signed by more than 100 lawmakers that opposed integrating schools after the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education.
The resolution honored Byrd, a noted fiscal conservative, for “his unswerving commitment to the commonwealth’s and the nation’s fiscal and economic well-being,” according to the Dispatch. It also honored him for being “remembered for his integrity and gentlemanly demeanor; he served the commonwealth and the nation with great dignity and distinction.“
Before the resolution was presented to Byrd’s family in the Senate, several of lawmakers, nearly all African-American, walked out of the chamber, including state Sens. Mamie E. Locke, (D) L. Louise Lucas, (D) A. Donald McEachin, (D) and Adam P. Ebbin. Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D) didn’t leave chamber but instead left his seat and stood against the wall.
“It wasn’t anything that anybody planned to do,” said Locke, chairwoman of the Black Legislative Caucus, as quoted by the Dispatch. “I just didn’t want to sit there and listen to a resolution that honored someone who was an ardent segregationist and never said I’m sorry for being a segregationist.”