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Pam Northam, Virginia first lady, under fire for handing cotton to African-American students

February 28, 2019 GMT

Virginia first lady Pam Northam is facing criticism after she gave African-American students cotton and asked them to ponder what being a slave was like.

The events were detailed in letters written by an 8th grade student and her mother, Leah Dozier Walker, who is director of the state’s Office of Equity and Community Engagement for Virginia’s Department of Education.

The student says she worked as a state Senate page and was touring the Governor’s mansion. While talking about the cotton that was picked on the property, Mrs. Northam allegedly handed cotton to her and another student, both African-American, and said, “can you imagine being an enslaved person, and having to pick this all day?”

Ms. Walker wrote in a letter to the Richmond Dispatch, “I can not for the life of me understand why the First Lady would single out the African American pages for this - or - why she would ask them such an insensitive question.”

Another parent who had a child participate in the tour and Northam’s office have both disputed that the first lady specifically chose black students, stating that cotton is handed out to everyone on the tour.

Ms. Northam said in a statement published by several news outlets that she regrets that she “upset anyone.”

“I have provided the same educational tour to Executive Mansion visitors over the last few months and used a variety of artifacts and agricultural crops with the intention of illustrating a painful period of Virginia history.”

This controversy comes weeks after Ms. Northam’s husband, Governor Ralph Northam, became enveloped in controversy and calls for resignation after a yearbook photo that depicted a photo of one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe surfaced with his name next to it.