Virginia's First Lady, Pam Northam, reportedly made the African-American daughter of a state employee “uncomfortable” when she handed her a piece of cotton and told her to imagine having to pick the crop all day as a slave. According to The Washington Post, Leah Dozier Walker—an employee at Virginia's Department of Education—wrote a letter to lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam's office describing Mrs. Northam's behavior during a tour her daughter took at the Governor's mansion last week. According to the letter, Northam asked Walker's daughter and two other African American students “if they could imagine what it must have been like to pick cotton all day” after passing a cotton sample to them inside a historic kitchen on the property. “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,” Walker wrote, referring to students who had served as pages during the state Senate session.
In a statement, Northam told the Post she regretted to have upset anyone and would continue to work “thoughtfully and honestly” to tell the stories of the mansion's slaves. “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,” she said. Northam's office told the Post the first lady had not singled out the African American students but had given cotton to the entire group. News of the incident comes after a racist picture was discovered on Gov. Northam's medical yearbook page, and he refused to step down despite strong calls to do so.