Virginia’s governor digs an even deeper hole with his ‘indentured servants’ comparison

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The Virginia Governor has resisted calls to resign
The Virginia Governor has resisted calls to resign

Image: alex edelman/Getty Images

2016%252f09%252f16%252fe5%252fhttpsd2mhye01h4nj2n.cloudfront.netmediazgkymde1lzew.e9fc9.jpg%252f90x90By Heather Dockray

Governor Ralph Northam has dug himself so far into a hole I’m not sure who can rescue him.

The Virginia governor is already under pressure to resign after a photo emerged of his yearbook page featuring two people, one in blackface and one dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member. The governor claimed he’s not either of the people in that photo, but then admitted he once put shoe polish on his face for a Michael Jackson costume. 

Northam, who has so far resisted calls to resign, stirred up controversy on CBS This Morning Sunday after he initially referred to the Africans who landed on Virginia’s shores hundreds of years ago as “indentured servants.”

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“We are now at the 400-year anniversary — just 90 miles from here in 1619. The first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe, and while — ” Northam said on the show.

“Also known as slavery,” Gayle King said, interrupting him.

“Yes,” Northam conceded.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam: “We are now at the 400-year anniversary — just 90 miles from here in 1619. The first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe, and while—”@GayleKing: “Also known as slavery”

— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) February 10, 2019

Were Northam not in the situation he’s in, this moment might have gone by unnoticed. As it is, however, the governor came under fire for seemingly minimizing this grotesque chapter of Virginia history:

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called Black Americans who were forcefully enslaved “indentured servants” and Gayle King had to correct him. The fact that this man was not immediately removed from office after photos of him wearing Blackface and klan attire surfaced, is beyond me

— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) February 10, 2019

What can you do with a history degree?

A better job than Governor Northam.

— And no I do not yield. Not one second to you. (@GilmoreGlenda) February 10, 2019

STOP IT. Resign NOW. You are incapable of leading a state when you can’t call slavery slavery. Black people were ENSLAVED. This is American History 101.

— Tamika D. Mallory (@TamikaDMallory) February 10, 2019

My God, it just gets worse & worse.😑

Asked about this week in VA, Northam responds by referring to kidnapped, enslaved, & trafficked Africans as “indentured servants.”🤦🏽‍♂️

Thank you @GayleKing for shutting that

— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@MuslimIQ) February 10, 2019


I’m going back to bed

— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) February 10, 2019

Virginia deserves a governor that knows the folks who were stolen from their land & brought to present day Virginia on cargo ships in 1619 were not “indentured servants” they were mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, leaders, warriors, elders who were captured & enslaved. SIGH

— Symone D. Sanders (@SymoneDSanders) February 10, 2019

This a classic old white Virginia guy thing to believe — the lore is that they were indentured servants, but there are no records suggesting that. Gets back to whether he is the best person to lead “racial healing.”

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) February 10, 2019

To add a little context, as recently as the 80s/early-90s, rural Virginia public education re: VA’s history leaned heavily on the “indentured servant” narrative. I had a teacher claim VA had only a few slaves (vs other states) & a bunch of folks happily working towards freedom

— michael raumer (@mindpivot) February 10, 2019

Other journalists and critics weren’t so sure that Northam committed a grand gaffe on Sunday (though no one disputes how much trouble he’s created for himself generally). 

Northam is in enough trouble but this isn’t part of it. The early black arrivals in the British North American colonies, and likely those at Jamestown, were often given the status of indentured servants. The slave system took time to evolve in the 17th century. @GayleKing

— jelani cobb (@jelani9) February 10, 2019

I’ll be clear about what I mean. Northam is actually correct about indentured servants arriving in 1619. I am happy that he is learning. He needs to grasp the history. But if he stays, what policies will he enact? Virginians need him to fight systemic racism, not pass an AP exam.

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) February 10, 2019

No, they’re not the same thing. But I believe the first Africans brought to the colonies were given the status of indentured servants. The system later became slavery. Northam’s problem isn’t this statement.

— Matthew Rosenberg (@AllMattNYT) February 10, 2019

Approximately 47 percent of Virginians believe Northam should step down, according to a new poll  conducted by The Washington Post-Schar School.

Northam has pledged to remain in office despite public pressure.

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