Between Issues


This story was published between issues of the newspaper. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes.

Originally published July 30, 2019 on the Virginia Defender Facebook page.

By Phil Wilayto

RICHMOND, VA, July 30 — President Donald J. Trump spoke today in Jamestown at Virginia’s official event marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of the House of Burgesses. The colonial-era institution later morphed into the present-day Virginia General Assembly, giving rise to the claim that the state’s legislature is the Western Hemisphere’s oldest continuing representative body.


First of all, the General Assembly’s arrogant claim ignores thousands of years of self-rule by indigenous people who survived Virginia’s long attempt to erase this land’s original inhabitants from history and even as a demographic category.

Secondly, the House of Burgesses was anything but a representative body. It included no indigenous people, no women, no free white men who did not own property and did not include or represent any of the “20 and odd” captured Africans brought to the colony later that same year and purchased in part by the same appointed governor, Sir George Yeardley, who had convened the House of Burgesses.

The truth is that this “first representative body,” established exactly 400 years ago today, was nothing more than a desperate effort by the richest and most powerful of the English colonists to impose some heavy-handed order on a chaotic collection of frustrated gold-seekers rebelling against the idea that they might actually have to do some physical work in order to survive in a non-urban setting.

Trump came to the commonwealth fresh from his vicious, white-supremacist attacks on four members of Congress, all of them young women of color, and the majority-Black city of Baltimore – not to mention his ongoing, horrific oppression of thousands upon thousands of primarily Latinx families whose only crime was to seek refuge from U.S.-caused poverty and violence by attempting to apply for legal asylum in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The obscenity of this neo-fascist racist addressing what was supposed to be a hallowed ceremony so offended the Democratic leadership of the state’s General Assembly that they and the legislature’s entire Black Caucus publicly boycotted the event. Instead, they held a separate commemoration in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom district, once the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade – a district that the Democratic-controlled city government has yet to properly memorialize.

Delegate Delores McQuinn, who chairs Richmond’s Slave Trail Commission, addresses a gathering in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom that commemorated the 400th founding of the House of Burgesses as well as the arrival of the first captured Africans to an English colony that would become the United States. Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. The Democratic leaders were boycotting the official event in Jamestown that included a speech by President Trump. Photo by Joseph Rogers.

However, not all Democrats boycotted Jamestown. Speaking prior to Trump was Gov. Ralph Northam, who along with two top Republican legislative leaders had extended the invitation for the president to speak. It was a clumsy set-back for Northam’s labored effort to politically redeem himself after last year’s admission that he had worn “blackface” at a military dance contest 30 years before.

And sitting prominently on the dais behind Trump was Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, including rape, by two women. Both accusers are African-American, as is Fairfax.

Trump himself was on his best choreographed behavior, obviously reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter. He even stood in patient silence as someone in the audience courageously interrupted him until a section of the overwhelmingly white crowd broke out in chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!”

Trump’s speech – doubtlessly written by someone else – was a paean to the mythology of the country’s founding, while being careful to also mention the “barbaric trade in human lives” that began the same year as the founding of the House of Burgesses.

“Today we remember every sacred soul …” who suffered from the trade and slavery, he piously declared, before morphing into a nationalist rant in which he blared to the world that “America always gets the job done, America always wins!”

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the event and denounced the White Supremacist-in-Chief for his racism and the threat he represents to what’s left of U.S. democracy.

Today was touted as the first time a sitting president had addressed the Virginia General Assembly, most of whose members had gathered in Jamestown for the commemorative event. Virginia was the only Southern state Trump failed to carry in the 2016 presidential election.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the protester who interrupted Trump’s speech was a “seating member of the General Assembly, Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax.” USA Today reports that Mr. Samirah, a Palestinian-American dentist, had shouted “You can’t send us back! Virginia is our home!” before being escorted out of the event. He later tweeted, “I just disrupted the @realDonaldTrump speech in Jamestown because nobody’s racism and bigotry should be excused for the sake of being polite. The man is unfit for office and unfit to partake in a celebration of democracy, representation, and our nation’s history of immigrants.” Kudos to you, Mr. Samirah!

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