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Va. First Lady's Mansion Tour Leaves Some 'Deeply Offended'

Pam Northam handed cotton to African-American students on tour
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2019 8:39 AM CST
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, right, and his wife, Pam, attend a funeral in Chilhowie, Va., on Feb. 9, 2019.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

(Newser) – Another Northam fumble has emerged, with a Virginia DOE rep citing a new "racially insensitive" incident—but this time it doesn't involve Ralph Northam. The Washington Post reports it's the governor's wife, Pam Northam, who's under fire following a tour of the governor's mansion. Leah Dozier Walker, the state DOE's director for equity and engagement, sent a letter to lawmakers saying her 8th-grade daughter was left "upset and deeply offended" after the Feb. 21 tour for Senate pages. Walker wrote that while talking to about 20 students, Pam Northam took cotton from a bowl and gave it to the only three African-American students in the group, one of whom was her daughter. Per Walker, Northam then asked those three pages "if they could imagine what it must have been like to pick cotton all day."

"Why would ANYONE ask children to imagine something like that, let alone African American Children?" Walker wrote. In a separate letter cited by USA Today, Walker's daughter herself noted that she refused to take the cotton from Northam, but that another page did but was "very uncomfortable." "The comments and just the way you carried yourself ... was beyond inappropriate," the girl added. In a statement, Northam says she's given this tour for months and "used a variety of artifacts and agricultural crops with the intention of illustrating a painful period of Virginia history." She adds, "I regret that I have upset anyone." Her office says she simply handed the cotton to the students nearest to her and that she was trying to highlight the discomfort caused by its sharp stems and leaves. (Northam stopped her husband from doing a Michael Jackson-style moonwalk at a press conference earlier this month.)

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