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Virginia First Lady Pam Northam Handed Cotton to Black Students at Governor’s Mansion

Virginia First Lady Pam Northam Handed Cotton to Black Students at Governor’s Mansion

What is in the water in Virginia?

Goodness sake, Virginia. Just weeks after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam came under fire for black face back in college, his wife Pam Northam is in hot water for offering black students cotton and encouraging them to imagine being enslaved and forced to pick the crop. From The Washington Post:

“The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions,” Leah Dozier Walker, who oversees the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the state Education Department, wrote Feb. 25 to lawmakers and the office of Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

“But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, do not lead me to believe that this Governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness,” she wrote.

Northam’s office and one other parent of a child who was present said the first lady did not single out the African American students and simply handed out the cotton to a group. But the incident highlights the scrutiny and doubt that envelop the governor as he tries to push past racist incidents from his past and ignore continued calls for his resignation. His first attempt at a “reconciliation tour” failed last week when the student government at Virginia Union University asked him not to attend a civil rights commemoration there.

The complaint about the tour is the first time the scandal’s stain has spread to Pam Northam, who insiders say has been a strong advocate behind the scenes for her husband to stay in office and work to clear his name.

“I regret that I have upset anyone,” Pam Northam said Wednesday in a statement emailed by the governor’s spokeswoman, Ofirah Yheskel.

The tour took place Feb. 21, when the Northams hosted a traditional gathering of about 100 young people who had served as pages during the state Senate session, which was wrapping up that weekend.

Trained docents often lead tours of the Executive Mansion, which was built with slave labor in 1813 and is the oldest active governor’s residence in the country. In this case, Pam Northam — a former middle school teacher — took groups of pages to an adjacent cottage that had long ago served as a kitchen.

Before a huge fireplace with iron cooking implements, Pam Northam held up samples of cotton and tobacco to a group of about 20 children and described the enslaved workers who picked it.

“Mrs. Northam then asked these three pages (the only African American pages in the program) if they could imagine what it must have been like to pick cotton all day,” Walker wrote. “I can not for the life of me understand why the first lady would single out the African American pages for this — or — why she would ask them such an insensitive question.”


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