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Jerry Falwell apologizes for blackface mask tweet after tempers flare

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Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, has apologized after posting what many considered a racially insensitive tweet in an attempt to remind Virginians that Gov. Ralph Northam once posed in blackface next to someone wearing a KKK outfit.

In a tweet blasting Northam’s order mandating all persons wear masks in public in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Falwell wrote that he would design one featuring a photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook that featured him in the controversial picture.

“I was adamantly opposed to the mandate from @GovernorVA requiring citizens to wear face masks until I decided to design my own. If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will reluctantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!” Falwell, who has since deleted the tweet, wrote.

The incident led to the resignation of several black members of the Liberty University staff, reports noted.

One of them was Keyvon Scott.

“I have resigned my position as Liberty University Online Admissions Counselor effective immediately. I cannot in good faith encourage people to attend a school with racially insensitive leadership and culture. It is a poor reflection of what Jesus Christ requires of us.,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Washington Post added:

LeeQuan McLaurin, who began as a student at Liberty in 2012 and has worked there since, resigned from his position as director of diversity retention last week. He said in an email that Falwell’s tweet on May 27 was a tipping point of larger racially related problems that he has experienced at the school, which he said have contributed to a drop in Liberty’s residential undergraduate African American population from 10 percent to 4 percent between 2007 and 2018.

“Some draw a direct line between the start of President Falwell’s divisive, insensitive, and unapologetic approach to politics and that drop,” McLaurin said in an email to the Post.

On Monday, Falwell apologized for the tweet, saying he did not realize it would only regenerate the earlier outrage directed at Northam once the yearbook photo was first reported by Big League Politics in February 2019.

“After listening to African American LU leaders and alumni over the past week and hearing their concerns, I understand that by tweeting an image to remind all of the governor’s racist past, I actually refreshed the trauma that image had caused and offended some by using the image to make a political point. Based on our long relationships, they uniformly understood this was not my intent, but because it was the result,” Falwell wrote on Twitter. “I have deleted the tweet and apologize for any hurt my effort caused, especially within the African American community.”

Falwell told the Post he didn’t know how many LU students were African-American. Citing 2018 federal data, the paper said around 15 percent of around 79,000 Liberty students enrolled at the time were black. According to 2016 U.S. Census figures, blacks make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population.

On Tuesday, tempers flared somewhat as several dozen protesters held signs and elicited honks from passing cars as demonstrators ripped Falwell’s tweet, WDBJ reported.

“A lot of Liberty students are out here, just because they disagree with what he’s saying and what he’s doing,” said protest organizer Jaela Stamps, 19, told the station.

At one point, about a dozen protesters took a knee in front of a line of campus police officers, but the tension was diffused by student Coleman Powers.

“Cause they support our cause,” he said. “They’re just protecting what they have to protect because it’s their job.”

Jerry Prevo, chairman of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, noted that while the Executive Committee understood the politics behind the photo on the mask, Northam’s administration was responsible for cutting tuition assistance grants for online students, “many of whom are African American.”

He added that Northam’s coronavirus lockdowns and other related policies are “doing the most injury to those on the lower end of the economic spectrum, who are disproportionately persons of color.”

Jon Dougherty

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