Retort to Slavery Remark Sparks Furor

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007

RICHMOND, Jan. 17 -- House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said Wednesday that news organizations have "blown out of proportion" comments made this week by a Richmond area delegate that insulted blacks and Jews.

Howell's comments came as the remarks by Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr. (R-Hanover) continued to reverberate around the Capitol, a day after lawmakers in both parties said Hargrove had made a mistake. In an interview with a Charlottesville newspaper, Hargrove said blacks "should get over" slavery instead of seeking a formal apology from the state. He also asked, "Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?"

In an interview Wednesday, Howell called Hargrove "a great American with a great heart."

"He would have done absolutely nothing to hurt anybody," Howell continued. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. It's muckraker journalism at its worst." Howell added that The Washington Post was merely "looking for an excuse to write 'macaca' once again," a reference to the extensive coverage given to the gaffe by former senator George Allen (R) that contributed to his defeat in the fall.

Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria) said Howell "demonstrates an ignorance" of how "hateful" Hargrove's comments were to many lawmakers and minorities. "It's not up to Bill Howell to determine whether it's been blown out of proportion. It's about the hurt that's been inflicted on others," said Moran, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

On Monday, Hargrove was asked by a Charlottesville Daily Progress reporter whether he would support the proposed state resolution apologizing for slavery. Hargrove, 79, responded by saying that "black citizens should get over it" because Virginians now alive had nothing to do with the practice.

The comments enraged the state's Legislative Black Caucus and some Jewish lawmakers, who denounced the remarks and said it is theologically incorrect to suggest that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.

Hargrove said he did not mean to offend anyone, though he said his critics had "thin skin." A 25-year veteran of the House, Hargrove represents a heavily Republican suburban district that includes Kings Dominion and a mix of million-dollar homes and sprawling cattle farms.

Del. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), whose grandmother's parents were slaves, said Howell should have taken a stronger stance against Hargrove's remarks.

"When you make that statement and tell African Americans to get over slavery and suggest there is a question whether Jews should apologize for the crucifixion of Christ, I don't think it has been blown out of proportion," McEachin said.

McEachin is one of the sponsors of a resolution calling on the state to officially apologize for slavery as part of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, where the first slaves arrived in 1619. Virginia permitted slavery until the Civil War.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who as mayor of Richmond officially apologized for slavery, called Hargrove's remarks "outrageous" and "very unfortunate." He added: "And anytime a comment is made that carries an official imprimatur because it's made by somebody in elected office that creates a sense of division among people, it's really unfortunate."

Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, said Hargrove was not speaking for the party. "It is not what I was taught in my faith, but I didn't make the comments," said Gillespie, a Catholic.

Buddy Fowler, Hargrove's legislative assistant, said his office was deluged Wednesday with hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, "98 percent of which were in support of Frank."

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said, "The truth of the matter, we are human beings, and human beings say stupid things and make mistakes."

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