LEESBURG, Va. — As Leesburg prepares to officially remember a victim of lynching, controversy has erupted and there are now calls for the resignation of a town councilman.
"We believe that racism should not be tolerated by our elected officials and we move today in a united force to call for his resignation," said Pastor Michelle Thomas, Loundoun NAACP president.
The Loudoun County branch of the NAACP is calling for Leesburg town Councilman Thomas Dunn to resign. It's over Dunn's actions concerning a proclamation for Juneteenth.
Juneteenth - which is on June 19 - commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. Leesburg will also be celebrating the life of Orion Anderson, a 14-year-old boy who, in 1889, was lynched by a mob at the train depot which stood near what is now the W.O. and D. Trail.
Anderson is one of three African Americans lynched in Loudoun County. The NAACP is working to place markers at each site.
Tom Dunn did not sign the Juneteenth proclamation. It's what he wrote that has infuriated the NAACP. He wrote on the signature line, "This is a celebration, lynchings are not."
Councilman Ron Campbell, who submitted the proclamation, said Dunn knows they're not celebrating lynchings, but lives brutally ended.
"Not to celebrate not to memorialize but to really look at what happened, and start the process of healing and reconciliation by telling the truth about these tragic and unlawful incidents," said Campbell.
The NAACP says Dunn also put his personal comments on proclamations for National Gun Violence Awareness Day and LGBTQ Pride Month.
"Clearly he has a history of this. If the proclamation on lynching was the third one that he defaced ... To have someone push forward these messages of hate, or intolerance, even as subtle as they are is in tolerable," Amanda Tandy said, Loudoun NAACP vice president.
Councilman Campbell said Dunn broke the town's ethics policy which prohibits council members from using official correspondence for personal opinions.
"No council member is above the obligations to respect all members of our diverse community," said Campbell.
Dunn responded to WUSA9 by email:
Councilman Tom Dunn did in no way violate the Town of Leesburg ethics policy. He did not use stationary or letter head to correspond with anyone. These calls for resignation are from the same people who seek to divide all of us against each other. I seek equality, freedom and non-violence from and by everyone, Dunn said.
Before the calls for his resignation were even made public Dunn re-signed his name to the Proclamations made available to him "because it is unfortunate that some groups had to be brought into the middle of a Council that wants to be activists rather than law makers" Dunn said. He continued "proclamations can be worded to honor any group or cause without being extremely political or take a position which other citizens may oppose." Council should consider the differing views of all our citizens when bring forward proclamations; especially when these documents are given a special privilege of no vote or preview before being placed on the agenda or into Council meeting packets.
Mr Dunn stated during the Tuesday Council meeting where the proclamations were presented that he opposed all forms of violence. And that people are violent, but objects such as sticks, bats, knives, pipes, guns, pressure cookers are not violent. All violence originates from people, and people should be the focus to ending violence. Mr Dunn also said he supports equality for all and "we cannot achieve true equality when we try to divide or allow ourselves to be divided into different groups. He also said that Juneteenth is a celebration of the Freedom of Slavery by Texas and should not be diminished by bringing in other issues, while important, are not to be celebrated but observed such as lynching.
Mr Dunn has voted to allow the placement of the lynching markers, he lead the way on Council to freely give town property containing black burial grounds to interested minority groups, and he asked Mayor Burk if she would support his proclamation denouncing the racism shown by the Virginia Governor and the Attorney General but Mayor Burk declined.
Mr Dunn has asked for a work session on how Council deals with Proclamations. Dunn said "Because some people and some groups will not accept a difference of opinion or speech and resort to calling those differences hate, I will not resign my position. I will continue to work for fair treatment of everyone and work against those efforts to divide us."
It says Dunn "In no way violated the Town of Leesburg ethics policy... These calls for resignation are from the same people who seek to divide all of us against each other. I seek equality, freedom and non-violence from. And by everyone."
The Juneteenth remembrance memorial for lynching victim Orion Anderson is set for Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Leesburg. It'll be held at the W. O and D trail and Harrison Street
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