Virginia's first lady handed cotton to African-American students during tour, complaint says

Pam Northam, the wife of embattled Virginia governor Ralph Northam, is facing criticism for her handling of a governor's mansion tour in which she handed cotton to multiple African-American students and asked them to ponder slavery, according to reports.

Letters from the girl and her mother detail the alleged incident. They say the eighth-grade girl – who served as a page for the state senate – visited the governor's mansion with other pages on Feb. 21. Pages are high school students appointed by senators that often help deliver messages and prepare the chamber for senate sessions.

During that visit, Northam is said to have handed multiple African-American pages cotton and asked them to imagine what it would be like to pick cotton as slaves.

Blackface, KKK hoods and mock lynchings: Review of 900 yearbooks finds blatant racism

Opinion: Forget blackface. Stop celebrating KKK and Confederacy to get past lynching and slavery

Blackface shoes and Holocaust T-shirts: Fashion brands' most controversial designs

Leah Dozier Walker, the girl's mother, wrote in a letter that her daughter was left "upset and deeply offended" by the incident. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has published that letter and identified Walker as the director of the state's Office of Equity and Community Engagement for the state's Department of Education.

"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's letter reads.

The girl's letter – addressed to Northam and published by WAVY-TV – says the cotton was handed to herself and another African-American page. Northam also gave it to "other pages," the letter says.

Northam is said to have asked the pages: "Can you imagine being an enslaved person and having to pick this all day?"

Feb. 11: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam slammed for referring to 'first indentured servants from Africa' instead of slaves

Feb. 9: 'A horrific week for Virginia': Gov. Ralph Northam takes on blackface scandal in first interview

More: These 5 politicians also recently faced their own blackface scandals

Northam's office and another parent whose child was in attendance during the tour have disputed the claim that Northam singled out black students, The Washington Post reports. The first lady handed the cotton to a group of students, they say.

In a statement published by multiple outlets, Northam said she has worked to include the stories of slaves in tours of the governor's residence.

"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. I regret that I have upset anyone," the statement reads.

The controversy comes after Virginia governor Ralph Northam has faced calls for his resignation from leading Democrats since his 1984 yearbook page from Eastern Virginia Medical School surfaced weeks ago. The page included a photo of a man in blackface standing beside a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Walker says the latest incident brings a new relevance to the previous scandal: “But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, 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 letter says.

Walker's letter was copied to multiple lawmakers to make sure her daughter's experience is taken seriously, the complaint says.

Contributing: William Cummings

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Virginia's first lady handed cotton to African-American students during tour, complaint says