Virginia first lady Pam Northam apologized Wednesday after she handed out cotton to black children during a recent tour of the governor’s mansion, the latest racial controversy involving the top levels of state government.
Northam handed out the cotton while showing students an adjacent cottage to the residence that had once served as a kitchen, asking them to imagine picking the crop as enslaved Africans.
“I regret that I have upset anyone,” Northam said. “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.”
Her apology came after a Virginia state employee whose eighth-grade daughter and another black child were on the tour complained to lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, The Washington Post reported.
Pam Northam’s actions “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,” the employee, Leah Dozier Walker, who oversees the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the state Education Department, wrote on Feb. 25.
The two African-American students were not singled out by Pam Northam, according to the governor’s office and another parent of a student present, who said she had handed out cotton to a group of students.
The incident comes after it was revealed earlier this month that the governor’s 1984 medical school yearbook page shows a photo of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially apologized for the photo, but a day later said he wasn’t in it. However, he admitted to wearing blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance competition the same year the yearbook was published.
Northam has resisted calls to resign, saying instead that he was looking to “heal” the state.