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Pam Northam Apologizes For Handing Cotton to African American Pages

Pam Northam, right, next to Governor Ralph Northam at a press conference earlier this month
Pam Northam, right, next to Governor Ralph Northam at a press conference earlier this month Craig Carper/WCVE News

Governor Ralph Northam’s wife, Pam Northam, apologized after a middle school student accused her of racial insensitivity on a tour of the executive mansion. 

The 8th grader, who is the daughter of a state employee, said in a letter dated February 25 that she was on the tour with other Senate pages.

In a letter, which was first reported by the Washington Post, the student says Pam Northam paused in the kitchen and handed cotton to two out of the three African American pages.

“Can you imagine being an enslaved person, and having to pick this all day?” Northam asked, according to the letter.

The student called the comments “beyond inappropriate.”

Northam said in a statement that she was attempting to honestly share the story of enslaved Virginians. 

“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,” she said.

Northam said that she regretted upsetting anyone, and a spokeswoman denied she singled anyone out. 

The page is the daughter of Leah Walker, who serves as the Director of Equity and Engagement at the Department of Education. 

Walker said in a statement of her own that the apology was inadequate.

“I also remain extremely disappointed in official responses that are as tone deaf and insensitive as the initial bad act,” Walker said. 

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Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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