Pam Northam picked the wrong children to ask to hold cotton.
The wife of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam — who is currently recovering from his own racially-charged controversy — found herself in hot water after the mother of a local black student claimed she asked her daughter to hold raw cotton on a recent tour of the governor’s mansion.
According to The Washington Post, Leah Dozier Walker sent a letter to lawmakers that her eighth-grade daughter Alexandra was left “upset and deeply offended” after going on a Senate Page trip to the residence on February 21.
Walker, who oversees the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the state’s Education Department, claimed Northam asked Alexandra and two other pages, the only black pages in the program, to hold cotton as they toured the Historic Kitchen of the Executive Mansion.
She then accused Northam of asking “these three pages if they could imagine what it must have been like to pick cotton all day,” adding:
“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.”
Wow. If that’s true, it’s stupidly offensive.
Of course, a rep for the administration denied that the black students were singled out, telling the Richmond-Times Dispatch that the First Lady encouraged every student to touch the cotton. The spokeswoman said in a statement:
“The First Lady did not single anyone out; she invited all of the pages to touch agricultural products and artifacts displayed in the Historic Kitchen as part of an educational tour.”
Northam issued her own apology to the outlet, claiming that the cotton picking incident was added to the tour in attempt to shed light on the historically omitted stories of the enslaved people who used to live in the Historic Kitchen cottage.
“As First Lady, I have worked over the course of the last year to begin telling the full story of the Executive Mansion, which has mainly centered on Virginia’s governors. The Historic Kitchen should be a feature of Executive Mansion tours, and I believe it does a disservice to Virginians to omit the stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked there — that’s why I have been engaged in an effort to thoughtfully and honestly share this important story since I arrived in Richmond. 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. I am still committed to chronicling the important history of the Historic Kitchen, and will continue to engage historians and experts on the best way to do so in the future.”
Well, the First Lady did shed a light on racism… just maybe not the way she intended.
For what it’s worth, another parent of a student in the group backed the rep’s claim that Northam didn’t single out the black students.
Either way, this incident comes at a tense time for the First Couple of Virginia. Just weeks ago, Governor Northam’s page in Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook resurfaced, showing a man in blackface and another man in a KKK robe.
The 59-year-old originally apologized for the photo, but has since claimed he was not either of the men pictured.
The governor has been adamant that he will remain at his post for the remainder of his term and hopes to gain back citizens’ trust. We don’t think this is helping in that department.
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