Jerry Falwell Jr. is again under fire. This time, however, he is sorry.
The outspoken Liberty University president deleted a tweet on Monday that showed one person in black face and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe after black alumni and religious leaders spoke out against it and his “incendiary rhetoric” over the last several years.
Falwell was roundly criticized last month for posting the photo with the racist figures, which was taken from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook.
In the offending tweet, which criticized Northam’s policy to require masks in public, the image was made to appear as though it was the design on a face mask.
That tweet, Falwell said, was intended to “remind all of the governor’s racist past.”
Instead, it prompted an open letter from black Christian leaders and alumni. It also prompted a resignation: Liberty University Online instructor and pastor Christopher House stepped down after seeing the tweet. House, who is black, is also an associate professor at Ithaca College.
A group of 35 black pastors, ministry leaders and former Liberty University student athletes sent a letter to Falwell this month asking him to “stop this infantile behavior,” citing the tweet as the latest example.
“While your tweet may have been in jest about Virginia’s Governor, it made light of our nation’s painful history of slavery and racism,” the letter reads. “The KKK robe and hood and blackface face mask tweet may seem funny to you, but this tweet is the action of a political commentator or activist and is not fitting nor acceptable for the leader of one of the largest Evangelical Christian schools in the world.”
In response, Falwell said Monday that he realized that he “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, I have deleted the tweet and apologize for any hurt my effort caused, especially within the African American community,” he tweeted.
A Change.org petition encouraged Liberty University alumni, faculty, current students and parents to sign if they agreed with the letter’s message. Nearly 40,000 people have signed so far.
About 85,586 students attend the evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. About 4,500 of those students are black – less than 10% of the student body.
Falwell’s recent coronavirus controversy
Falwell, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, has courted much controversy as of late, most of it coronavirus-related. In an interview on Fox News in March, he said people were “overreacting” to the pandemic.
When Liberty University reopened to 1,000 students toward the end of March, against guidance from state officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Falwell said that concerns over students returning to campus were overblown.
And in April, a lawsuit against the university claimed it was profiting from the coronavirus crisis by reducing campus services but not refunding student fees paid for those services.