Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has signed legislation outlawing capital punishment and the death penalty making it the first southern state to do so.

Virginia’s state House voted 57-41 in favor of the bill and the Senate then voted 22-16 in February. Virginia has executed more than 1,300 people since 1608.

“If we can do it, surely other states can make this happen,” said the Rev. LaKeisha Cook, who works as a criminal justice reform organizer of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. “Because truth be told, people probably never even expected Virginia to be able to abolish the death penalty.”

Virginia is the first state to ever carry out an execution, making their choice to repeal even more significant. Northam and other officials acknowledge that the death penalty disproportionately affected African-American defendants in the state. Of the 377 inmates executed during the 20th century in Virginia, 296 of them were black.

“Capital punishment is a direct descendant of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow,” said Cook who explained that capital punishment in the American south was used as a tool to “control the black population and discourage rebellion.”

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