Virginia first lady accused of giving African-American students cotton during governor's mansion tour

Virginia first lady accused of giving African-American students cotton during governor's mansion tour
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A Virginia state employee is accusing Virginia first lady Pam Northam of giving her eighth-grade daughter and another African-American student raw cotton and telling them to imagine being slaves during a tour of the governor's mansion.

"The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions,” Leah Dozier Walker, director of the state education department's Office of Equity and Community Engagement, wrote to legislators this week, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

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“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.”

According to Walker, Northam singled out the only African-American children on a tour earlier this month that included about 20 young people who had served as pages during the state Senate session. She was reportedly describing past work by slaves who picked cotton on the grounds of the governor's mansion. 

A spokesperson for the governor's office told The Hill that Northam hosted 100 legislative pages at the mansion, and invited them all to touch products displayed in the mansion's historic kitchen, including tobacco, produce and cotton. Northam did not single any of them out, according to the spokesperson.

"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," Northam said in a statement emailed by the spokesperson.

"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," she said in the statement.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been plagued by scandal in recent weeks after his page in his medical school yearbook surfaced earlier this month that showed a picture of one man wearing blackface and another dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes. Northam denied being either person in the photo, but said he did once darken his face to dress up as Michael Jackson. 

Amid calls for his resignation, Northam has refused to resign. He had planned a statewide "listening tour" to discuss race relations, but his first stop, at the historically black college Virginia Union University, was canceled after students asked him not to come.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) this month also admitted to using blackface as a teenager. Meanwhile, two women have accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault this month. 

--Updated 7 p.m.