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Some background on Virginia's 4th Congressional district

The James River flows past downtown Richmond, Va., Thursday, April 2, 2015.
Steve Helber
The James River flows past downtown Richmond, Va., Thursday, April 2, 2015.

The death of Congressman Donald McEachin opens up a seat in the House of Representatives, and voters will choose a replacement in a special election.

Back in the 1880’s, Virginia’s 4th Congressional District was represented by John Mercer Langston – the first African American to represent Virginia in Congress. Historian Brent Tarter says Langston was a noted academic before he got involved in politics.

"He was a nationally known Black leader until he died late in the century. It's a very remarkable career," says Tarter. "He had national stature before he ever even came to Virginia. And in some respects his being a member of Congress, it may be the most important thing he did in Virginia, but it may not be the most important thing he did in his life."

When Donald McEachin was elected to the seat that Langston held back in the 1880s, he was only the third Black member of Congress to represent Virginia. Amanda Wintersieck at Virginia Commonwealth University says it's important to remember that McEachin won the seat after the courts determined that Republicans engaged in racial gerrymandering.

"Richmond is included in this district, and Richmond is a heavily Black city," Wintersieck says. "And so yeah, I think that there are some racial undertones about this being a majority-minority district. And I think this is already revealing itself who is seemingly thrown their hat in the ring to run."

Candidates for the special election could include Senator Jennifer McClellan, Delegate Lamont Bagby, Richmond Mayor Lavar Stoney, former Delegate Laschrese Aird and Chesapeake City Councilwoman Ella Ward.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.