Virginia's first lady Pam Northam has come under fire after handing raw cotton to two black eighth-graders during a tour of the Governor's mansion, and suggested the students imagine what it was like under slavery to pick said cotton, according to the Washington Post. One of the students was the daughter of a Virginia state employee.
According to Leah Dozier Walker, director of the state education department's Office of Equity and Community Engagement, Northam singled out the only black kids out of 20 young people who had served as pages during the state Senate session.
The incident comes less than a month after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) came under fire for a racist 1984 medical school yearbook photo showing him either in blackface or a KKK outfit. While Northam initially apologized for the photo, he later said he wasn't in the photo - though he then admitted that he wore blackface for a San Antonio dance competition in his youth.
"The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions," said Walker. "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."
Northam's office and the parent of one of the other students claims that Pam Northam did not single out the black student, and was handing out cotton to the group.
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.
Northam has been trying to mount a rehabilitation campaign after the "blackface" incident - however it got off to a rocky start when the student government at Virginia Union University asked him not to attend a civil rights commemoration there. Members of the Virginia Black Caucus, meanwhile, say Northam has not done enough to help underprivileged minorities in the state budget.
The turmoil among Virginia's Democratic leadership extends beyond the Northams - with state Attorney General Mark Herring admitting to also wearing blackface in his youth, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax standing accused of sexual assault by two women.