As a small West Virginia community tries to move past the backlash of a racist Facebook post that targeted first lady Michelle Obama, a council member had some inviting words for outsiders who look down on her town. “Come see us,” Joyce Gibson said. “Spend a day with us. If I knew you would come, I would bake a cake. We’re very decent people.” Clay Mayor Beverly Whaling resigned Tuesday and the Town Council later met to accept it. The resignation came after another woman whose post Whaling responded to was placed on leave as director of the nonprofit Clay County Development Corp.
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The council meeting was brief, with councilman Jason Hubbard reading a statement condemning the “horrible and indecent” post. He apologized on behalf of the town to Michelle Obama and anyone who was offended.
“Please don’t judge the entire community for one or two individual acts,” Hubbard said.
The council plans to act quickly to name a replacement for the remaining three years of Whaling’s term.
“She was a good mayor, I thought, and she knew how to get things done,” Gibson said. “It’s just a shame that this has happened. But, you know, there could be good things come out of it.”
She doesn’t know what that will be or how the town will repair itself “unless we just go day by day to live like we have lived,” Gibson said.
Clay County Development director Pamela Ramsey Taylor made the post following Republican Donald Trump’s election as president, saying of incoming first lady Melania Trump: “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”
Whaling responded: “Just made my day Pam.”
Whaling later issued a written apology to news media outlets, saying her comment wasn’t intended to be racist.
“I was referring to my day being made for change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me know that I’m not in any way racist!”
Taylor, who told WCHS-TV on Monday night that she was put on leave, did not return a call seeking comment.
Gibson said the post gave the town of about 500 residents a label it didn’t want. After news of the post circled the globe, the small office’s voicemail system quickly filled to capacity with irate callers. An online campaign calling for Taylor and Whaling to resign drew tens of thousands of responses.
The nonpartisan town council has five members, plus the town recorder and mayor. Whaling’s seat was empty during Tuesday’s meeting in a small office attended by a few local residents along with several journalists and some people from outside the area who said they wanted to see justice served.
Annie Thacker of Barrackville drove 117 miles to the meeting.
“I saw what was happening in small town West Virginia,” she said. “I’m from small town West Virginia. I wanted to see hate put down in West Virginia, especially after this election cycle. Everyone’s watching.”
Lish Greiner of Belpre, Ohio, said she had volunteered during flood cleanup in West Virginia over the summer and returned for the town council meeting because “I will not tolerate hate in my home and in my area.”
Clay County Development, which provides services to elderly and low-income residents in the county, is funded through state and federal grants and local fees. It is not affiliated with the town of Clay, which is about 50 miles east of Charleston.
The uproar occurred as the town is still trying to recover from severe flooding in late June along the nearby Elk River. Clay County also has been hit by hundreds of layoffs in the coal industry this decade.
Gibson was asked what was worse, the flood or the attention from the Facebook post.
“I’ll have to think about that,” she said. “This (backlash) will go away.”