A state commission in Virginia on Thursday called for the repeal of outdated, racist laws that legally entrenched segregation, barred interracial marriage and prevented black voters from casting ballots, among other measures.
In its 72-page report, the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity said it found “deeply troubling” instances of “explicitly racist language and segregationist policies” enacted from 1900 to 1960, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“If we are going to move forward as a Commonwealth, we must take an honest look at our past,” Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “We know that racial discrimination is rooted in many of the laws that have governed our Commonwealth. Today represents an important step towards building a more equal, just and inclusive Virginia.”
Though most of the laws have no legal effect, they are still enshrined in law, the nine-member commission created by Northam said.
“Some of these acts were rendered null and void by an amended Virginia Constitution, by landmark civil rights cases or legislation, it’s clear that they are vestiges of Virginia’s segregationist past that still sit on the books,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Hudson, the commission’s chair, said at a news conference.
In this Feb. 2, 2019 file photo Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, gestures as his wife, Pam, listens during a press conference in the Governors Mansion at the Capitol in Richmond. A commission Northam tasked with researching racist laws from the state’s past recommended Thursday that dozens be repealed in order to purge the state’s books of discriminatory language. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
The panel said that although most of the laws have been declared unconstitutional, they could still be revived by a court.
The laws in question focused on three distinct periods: When Virginia adopted laws to override Reconstruction-era policies, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement.
One 1956 provision exempts students from attending racially integrated schools.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no child shall be required to enroll in or attend any school wherein both white and colored children are enrolled,” the law reads.
Another from the same year requires local governments to grant private school vouchers to white students who refuse to attend integrated schools.
As Gov. Ralph Northam, left, looks on, Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Hudson, left, addresses a gathering as she presented the report from The Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law in Richmond, Va., on Thursday. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Others included a 1918 measure that compelled people of different races to be treated for tuberculosis in different facilities and laws that further supported housing and transportation segregation.
The commission declined to make a recommendation about laws enacted in the early 1900s regarding the creation of Confederate memorials and the granting of pensions to Confederate supporters.
The decision was based on the “sensitive nature of this topic” and the possibility that the state Legislature may take action on the issues in 2020, according to the paper.
The commission will continue to look at other laws in 2020 that “while appearing race-neutral or non-discriminatory on their face, have the effect of perpetuating discrimination and racial inequity,” according to Northam’s office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.