Blatant racism seems to run in the governor’s family. Just a short time after both political parties asked for Gov. Ralph Northam to step down after photos of him in blackface surfaced, his wife Pam also committed a guffaw. According to reports from various news media, she didn’t bat an eye while handing cotton to African American students during a tour of the governor’s mansion. And that’s not all… she also asked them to ponder slavery.
Letters from one of the students and her mother detail the alleged incident. They say the eighth-grade girl – who served as a page for the state senate – visited the governor’s mansion with other pages on Feb. 21. Pages are high school students appointed by senators that often help deliver messages and prepare the chamber for senate sessions. According USA Today, during that visit, Northam is said to have handed multiple African-American pages cotton and asked them to imagine what it would be like to pick cotton as slaves.
Leah Dozier Walker, the girl’s mother, wrote in a letter that her daughter was left “upset and deeply offended” by the incident. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has published that letter and identified Walker as the director of the state’s Office of Equity and Community Engagement for the state’s Department of Education. “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,” Walker’s letter reads.
The girl’s letter – addressed to Northam and published by WAVY-TV – says the cotton was handed to her and another African-American page. Northam also gave it to “other pages,” the letter says. Northam is said to have asked the pages: “Can you imagine being an enslaved person and having to pick this all day?” Northam’s office and another parent whose child was in attendance during the tour have disputed the claim that Northam singled out Black students, the Washington Post reports.
The first lady handed the cotton to a group of students, they say. In a statement published by multiple outlets, Northam said she has worked to include the stories of slaves in tours of the governor’s residence. “I have provided the same educational tour to Executive Mansion visitors over the last few months and used a variety of artifacts and agricultural crops with the intention of illustrating a painful period of Virginia history. I regret that I have upset anyone,” the statement reads.