ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. (WAVY) - Charges of racism in Isle of Wight County are igniting the community.
It began with an off-handed comment about the "south rising again" at a meeting of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors. Then came the racially tainted emails that cemented the feelings that one board member is way out of line.
The NAACP says the emails are offensive, racist, and insulting to First Lady Michelle Obama.
"Racism is still alive and well in Isle of Wight County," said Dottie Harris with the Isle of Wight County NAACP.
Harris is upset about an email that asks: "can you guess what this is?" The answer is Michelle Obama's High School Reunion. The picture is offensive. Another email says Michelle Obama was offered $50 to pose nude by National Geographic.
Harris' response after viewing the emails: "It hurts. It's hurting, and it's hurtful."
The man who emailed those jokes around the county is Isle of Wight County Vice Chairman Byron Bailey. WAVY News' Andy Fox confronted him at his office and he said, "Andy, it's just a joke...I mean there's nothing serious."
WAVY.com pointed out that the jokes were offensive to many people he represents as an elected public official. Bailey responded, "you can make it sound as bad as you want."
WAVY.com asked Bailey why he sent the emails and Bailey replied that he only forwarded emails that were sent to him.
Bailey also took the time to write on the emails he forwarded, "this is just too funny." Bailey told WAVY.com that he has changed his mind about the emails; he now thinks they are not funny and he apologizes.
The Isle of Wight County NAACP is deeply troubled by this.
"To know one of our public officials would take this garbage, and put it out, and says this is a joke...it makes me sick," Harris said.
Bailey was first emailed the racially insensitive emails by elected School Board member Herbert DeGroft. He was not home, and did not return WAVY.com's call. DeGroft is the one who wrote and gathered what was in the email. He only sent it privately to Bailey who then mass emailed it to others including other board members, the County Administrator, and the County Attorney.
Bailey pointed out his dedicated work for African-Americans over the years: building affordable housing, hiring the first African-American car salesman and realtor in the County.
"I will go on my record with Isle of Wight. I will not resign. I will finish my term, and I may run again for a second term," Bailey said.
But Harris has a different opinion.
"He will apologize, and he will resign," she said. "The pressure is too much. It will be too great."
After County Attorney Mark Popovich got Bailey's email, he called the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
"I wanted her to know it was going on, and to get Mr. Bailey to stop sending those types of emails," Popovich said.
No known emails were sent out after March.
Harris says the matter boils down to a heart issue.
"You may do a lot of good things in your life, but it's what is in your heart that counts," she said. "That is what comes out in the end."
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