‘In­den­tured ser­vants’ com­ment sparks new Northam con­tro­versy

Some Va. leg­is­la­tors say com­ments min­i­mize suf­fer­ing of early Africans

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW CAIN

Em­bat­tled Gov. Ralph Northam as­serted Sun­day “I’m not go­ing any­where,” but he sparked con­tro­versy anew by re­fer­ring to the first Africans brought to Vir­ginia in 1619 as “in­den­tured ser­vants.”

Northam ap­peared to be mak­ing a tech­ni­cal dis­tinc­tion — Vir­ginia’s key laws re­gard­ing slav­ery were passed af­ter 1640 — but some of the state’s African-Amer­i­can law­mak­ers thought his com­ments ap­peared to min­i­mize the degra­da­tion im­posed on Vir­ginia’s early Africans.

In an in­ter­view Sun­day morn­ing at the Ex­ec­u­tive Man­sion, shown on the CBS pro­gram “Face the Na­tion,” Northam be­gan by not­ing that this year is a piv­otal 400-year an­niver­sary for Vir­ginia.

“Well, it has been a dif­fi­cult week,” Northam said. “And — and, you know, if you look at Vir­ginia’s his­tory we’re 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.”

CBS in­ter­viewer Gayle King in­ter­jected: “Also known as slav­ery.” “Yes,” Northam said. Del. Jeff Bourne, DRich­mond, an AfricanAmer­i­can, tweeted af­ter the in­ter­view: “But he’s sup­posed to lead a con­ver­sa­tion and fight for eq­uity. Miss me with all that B.S.”

Among those retweet­ing Bourne’s com­ment was Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Peters­burg, an­other mem­ber of the Vir­ginia Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus.

In a phone in­ter­view, Bourne said: “Re­fer­ring to the Africans who ar­rived here in 1619 as ‘in­den­tured servi­tude’ is not how I would de­scribe it.”

The first Africans ar­rived in Vir­ginia at Point Com­fort on the James River in late Au­gust 1619, ac­cord­ing to En­cy­clo­pe­dia Vir­ginia, pro­duced by Vir­ginia Hu­man­i­ties, in part­ner­ship with the Li­brary of Vir­ginia.

“There, ‘20. and odd Ne­groes’ from the English ship White Lion were sold in ex­change for food and some were trans­ported to Jamestown, where they were sold again, likely into slav­ery,” the en­try said, cit­ing a let­ter writ­ten by John Rolfe, sec­re­tary of the Vir­ginia colony.

Ac­cord­ing to the Colo­nial Wil­liams­burg Foun­da­tion, 1640 to 1660 marked “the crit­i­cal pe­riod” of slave laws passed in Vir­ginia, as cus­tom be­came law and “sta­tus changed to ‘ser­vant for life.’”

It says that from 1660 to 1680 slave laws fur­ther re­stricted blacks’ free­dom and le­gal­ized “dif­fer­ent treat­ment for blacks and

whites.” Be­tween 1680 and 1705, a host of ad­di­tional laws took ef­fect in Vir­ginia that re­flected “racism and the de­lib­er­ate sep­a­ra­tion of blacks and whites.”

By 1705, “all black, mu­latto and In­dian slaves”

were “con­sid­ered real prop­erty.”

Sev­eral mem­bers of the Vir­ginia Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus, in­clud­ing its chair­man, Del. La­mont Bagby, D-Hen­rico, could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment on Sun­day.

Northam told CBS that he had thought about re­sign­ing amid calls from Democrats and Repub­li­cans for him to step down.

“Vir­ginia needs some­one that can heal. There’s no bet­ter per­son to do that than a doc­tor,” said Northam, a pe­di­atric neu­rol­o­gist. “Vir­ginia also needs some­one who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral com­pass. And that’s why I’m not go­ing any­where.”

The Vir­ginia Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus first called for Northam to re­sign on Feb. 1, the day the gover­nor said: “I am deeply sorry for the de­ci­sion I made to ap­pear as I did” in a 1984 year­book photo that fea­tured one man in black­face and an­other man in Ku Klux Klan robes.

The next day, af­ter Northam walked back his state­ment at a news con­fer­ence, say­ing he was not in the photo, the cau­cus is­sued a new state­ment, am­pli­fy­ing its call for Northam to re­sign.

The lat­est flare-up came as Vir­gini­ans con­tin­ued to sort through si­mul­ta­ne­ous scan­dals that have made the state’s lead­ers the sub­ject of ridicule on late night talk shows and on “Satur­day Night Live.”

Days af­ter he called for Northam to re­sign, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring ad­mit­ted on Wed­nes­day that he had worn black­face while dress­ing as a rap­per at a col­lege party in 1980. On Fri­day, a sec­ond woman came for­ward and ac­cused Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax of sex­ual as­sault, prompt­ing mass calls for the lieu­tenant gover­nor to re­sign.



Gov. Ralph Northam spoke at a news con­fer­ence in­side the Ex­ec­u­tive Man­sion on Feb. 2 along­side his wife, Pam. In an in­ter­view Sun­day at the man­sion, shown on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion,” Northam again said he has no plans to re­sign.

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