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Dunavant responds to furor: ‘I love black people’

South Boston News
Jack Dunavant
SoVaNow.com / August 03, 2020
Facing a firestorm of criticism for a letter to the editor that blamed society’s ills on “a cottage industry” of social programs for the poor — with a line referring to “good colored people back in the day when children were born in wedlock and expected to behave like civilized human beings” — Halifax Town Council member Jack Dunavant is pushing back at claims he is racist.

“I think people have misread my intent in my letter to both papers,” said Dunavant in a brief interview Friday. “My intent was to show the distress in the black family from liberal social policies … It hasn’t gotten better, it’s gotten worse.”

The letter, entitled “Killing America,” has drawn calls for Dunavant’s ouster from Halifax Town Council. In the interview, Dunavant said he has no intention of resigning his seat.

He defended his record on race relations, saying “I did not do this [write the letter] for any other reason than to improve the black community who I dearly love, especially the good black people. I think my record speaks for itself.

“I have a real desire to see the black community improve itself, and it can be done. I live here, I love this county. I love black people. I probably employ more black people than anybody around here, and I work in the ditch with them, shovel to shovel,” he said.

Dunavant’s letter, published in both local newspapers, blamed a variety of social ills on social safety net programs that “are sowing the seeds that will eventually destroy this great nation. It is a crime against humanity — and you and I are paying for it.

“This so-called welfare system is nothing more than a crime breeding syndicate that has taken a particularly heavy toll on hard-working black families — and the black man has been made superfluous by government welfare checks. Is that any way to raise children? I think not,” he wrote.

In response to those characterizations and others by Dunavant, a number of people on social media and in their own newspaper letters have called on Town Council to denounce bigotry and remove the long-serving member from their ranks.

Cece Jones-Davis, a native of Halifax County, condemned “Mr. Dunavant’s abhorrently racist opinion in the local paper” in a letter that will be published in the News & Record on Thursday. “Simply stated, Mr. Dunavant cannot represent a broad community of citizens with diverse backgrounds, nuances, and needs. He especially cannot be trusted to adequately address the needs and concerns of the county’s most vulnerable, POOR populations.”

Another county native who lives outside the area, Carlesa Snead, who works as an agent for the FBI, wrote Mayor Dexter Gilliam and members of Town Council asking that Dunavant “be swiftly terminated” from Council.

“As a private citizen, Mr. Dunavant has, under the Constitution that I defend, a right to speak his heart at will. And I’m glad he has, for we all deserve to know with whom we live amongst. However, as a public elected official, his comments underscore a sickness in the belly of this place that you must choose to address for the perpetuity of righteousness and justice in this town.

“He has not broken the law, but he has broken the very basic core values that surely you uplift: fairness, compassion, diversity, morality, accuracy. The basics,” wrote Snead.

Contacted Friday for comment, Mayor Gilliam said Council members have not had an opportunity to form a response to Dunavant’s letter. The mayor said any action would have to represent the collective sentiment of Council.

“The letter that Jack wrote was obviously as an individual,” said Gilliam. “He wrote it without any knowledge of Council.” Asked if Town Council would heed public calls to remove Dunavant from office, Gilliam replied, “Any actions that Council may or may not take have to be a decision of the Council.

“Whether that will take place is something I can’t say right now because I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure the situation is something the Council will discuss, but there’s no pending action that I know of that exists at this time.”

Gilliam noted that several Council members have been out of town this week, on vacation and because of a death in the family.

“As we get to the first part of next week, it may become more clear where the Council as a body stands,” he said.

Expulsion of elected officials from office is a rare event in Virginia. One such episode occurred in 2019 when Amherst Town Council removed an elected member on a 4-1 vote. However, Amherst has a provision in its town charter that allows for expulsion of a member if a two-third majority on Council votes in favor of the move.

State law also allows for citizens to petition circuit courts to ask for the removal of public officers. However, to be successful, the petitioners must be able to prove “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office” by the official whose removal is being sought.

Public officials can also be removed for criminal convictions. Under all petitions to the court, petitioners are required to obtain signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of votes that the officeholder received in the last election. Only signatures in the jurisdiction in question are considered.

In the Town of Amherst, where first-term Council member Janice Wheaton was removed in July 2019, seven months after taking office, the move drew criticism from other local elected officials who said Council was overturning the will of voters who put Wheaton in office.

In response, Tom Berry, the town’s attorney, told the Lynchburg News & Advance that the four other members of Council were a “very conscientious” group that weighed the move carefully before acting.

Walter Erwin, city attorney for nearby Lynchburg, told the News & Advance that Lynchburg has a similar clause in its charter allowing the expulsion of members. Other than Lynchburg and Amherst, however, Erwin said he knew of only one other Virginia locality that allows expulsion by a Council majority — the City of Richmond.

“You can’t do it because you don’t like that person or they annoy you,” Erwin said of the provision in Lynchburg’s charter in a newspaper interview. “It has to be a serious matter. It would have to be a significant matter.”

In Friday’s interview with the News & Record, Dunavant blamed “all the problems” with race relations on “malcontents” and added, “I don’t know what you do with malcontents, but you don’t give into them.”

Referring to marchers who planned to gather Sunday in Halifax to protest his letter, Dunavant said, “If they’re well behaved, they are welcome at my home.”

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You time has passed Jack Dunavant, just go; resign!!

Comments

Mr. Dunavant's letter was not written as a member of the Town Council but rather as a private citizen. He makes no reference to the letter as being representative of anyone except himself. Much of the letter's comments are reminiscences of his life -- ...the way we were..." if you will. Given his advanced age, Mr. Dunavant has seen things evolve that the majority of the protestors have not - from the photographs, most are young and certainly not born prior to World War II. It would therefore appear that the protestors came onto the scene more than half way past the first 2 acts of this "play." As for the "Aunt Rose," I am Caucasian but my father so loved and revered his "Aunt," that he named me for her and I am most proud of it. I met her in the 1940's and fell in love with her as well. See to your own deportment!

Comments

I think it takes a lot ogf gults to stand up and tell the truth. Its the norm in our soceity no what race you are.i have a driend that is white, has 9 grown kids, her kids have kids and the kids now have kids, all are on the system that provides them with food and a place to live, except for the mother all the desendant generations. They Dont work, none are married and the cycles keep going, this is what Mr. Dunevant was trying to get across. The old saying give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

Comments

I did not think the letter was meant in a prejudice way. He has a voice and based on his good service to Halifax County over the years he should not be removed from office. Calling him a prejudice is very unfair to him and his family.


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