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Virginia's first lady under fire for handing cotton to African-American students during a tour of a mansion

An employee of the state of Virginia complained that her eighth-grade daughter was upset during a visit to the historic governor's residence when the first lady of the nation, Pam Northam, told him gave some raw cotton and asked him to another African American child to imagine himself as a slave.

"The governor and Mrs. Northam have asked Commonwealth residents to forgive their past unfeeling acts of race," said Leah Dozier Walker, head of the Department of Justice's Department of Equity and Community Engagement. state education, to lawmakers. and Governor Ralph Northam's office (D).

"But Ms. Northam's actions just last week do not lead me to believe that this governor's office took seriously the wrongs and wrongs they caused to African Americans in Virginia or that They deserve our forgiveness, "she wrote.

Northam's office and one of the parents of a child present said that the first lady did not distinguish African-American students and simply distributed cotton to a group. But the incident brings to light the meticulous scrutiny and doubts that envelop the governor as he tries to repel past racist incidents from his past and ignore the continued calls for his resignation. His first attempt at a "reconciliation tour" failed last week when the student government of Virginia Union University asked him not to attend a commemoration of civil rights.

And while Northam vowed to dedicate the last three years of his mandate to racial equity, members of Virginia's Black Legislative Caucus said he was not doing enough to help disadvantaged minorities in the state budget. .

Northam has been under fire since February 1, when a page from its 1984 medical school yearbook was revealed. One sees a person in blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan dress. Northam first took responsibility for the photo; A day later, he said he was not in the picture but admitted he was darkening his face to emulate Michael Jackson in a dance contest later that year.

All major state democrats, including Virginia's black legislative caucus, have called on Northam to withdraw. The pressure to leave was somewhat quieted, as Virginia's two other top executives became involved in controversy shortly after the Northam scandal. The lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, denied allegations of sexual assault of two women and Attorney General Mark R. Herring admitted to carrying a black head for a college party in 1980.

The complaint about the tour is the first time that the spot of the scandal spreads to Pam Northam, who according to insiders has been a staunch defender behind the scenes for her husband to remain in office and is striving to clarify his name.

"I regret to have upset anyone," Pam Northam said Wednesday in a statement sent by the spokesman of the governor, Ofirah Yheskel.

The tour took place on February 21, when the Northams organized a traditional gathering of about 100 youths who served as pages during the state Senate session, which ends this weekend.

Skilled instructors often conduct visits to the Executive Mansion, built in 1813 for forced labor and the oldest functioning governor's residence in the country. In this case, Pam Northam – a former college teacher – took groups of pages to an adjacent cottage that had been used for cooking for a long time.

In front of a huge fireplace with iron kitchen utensils, Pam Northam presented samples of cotton and tobacco to a group of about 20 children and described the enslaved workers who picked her up.

"Ms. Northam then asked these three pages (the only Afro-American pages of the program) if they could imagine what it should have been to harvest cotton all day," wrote Walker. "I can not understand why the first lady chooses African-American pages for that – or – why she would ask them such an insensitive question. "

The governor's office, who did not let Pam Northam available for an interview, said that she had simply handed the cotton to anyone nearby and that everyone should note the sharpness of the stems. and leaves on the raw cotton, to imagine how bad it would be to feel comfortable. been managing all day.

Walker could not be contacted immediately for comment. In a letter addressed to Pam Northam by Walker's daughter and attached to the e-mail for legislators, the girl said that she had not taken the cotton, but that her friend had done it. "It made her very uncomfortable," the girl wrote.

"I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, because you've given it to other pages," wrote the daughter to Pam Northam. "But then you went on to ask," Can you imagine being a slave person and having to choose her all day? ", Which did not help the damage you had caused."

Susan Clarke Schaar, Clerk of the Senate, said, "We have not received any complaints" after visiting the mansion. She added that the only thing that made the pages sound afterwards is the fact that one of the pages was dehydrated and fainted during the visit of the kitchen.

Senator William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin), whose daughter served as a page during this session, was part of the group that the first lady took to the kitchen. Stanley refused to make her daughter available for an interview, but she told him that Pam Northam had distributed the cotton to all the students.

"The intention of the first lady was to show the horrors of slavery and to make sure everyone felt the pain they felt, to a small extent," he said. Two days later, Stanley's wife received the same Pam Northam tour and found it "poignant," he said.

Del Marcia S. "Cia" Price (member of the D-Newport News), congratulated the student "for her courage to speak up while many African-Americans had not always had the Opportunity to cope with them here. "

She said that Pam Northam showed a lack of judgment when presented to the children.

"Cotton itself is a symbol of the murder, rape, displacement and the radiant effects of the transatlantic slave trade that Black Virginians are still experiencing today," Price said. "I do not know whether to give cotton to children to understand that slavery was bad."

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and his wife, Dorothy, began restoring the kitchen building to showcase the service to generations of enslaved workers whose name had been lost to most by history. The McAuliffes had passages of letters written by some of these slave workers engraved on tablets and mounted on the garden wall on the outside.

Northam's office said the first lady had met experts in Monticello to learn how to introduce the story of slave laborers. At a luncheon with spouses of state legislators a week ago, Pam Northam invited a speaker from Monticello to present a program entitled "How did oral history give voice to the slave community?" Monticello "?

In her statement, Pam Northam said she would continue her efforts to tell "in a thoughtful and honest way" the story of the slave laborers at the mansion. "I am always committed to chronicling the important history of historical cooking and will continue to engage historians and experts on how best to do so in the future," she said. .

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