The Slatest

Va. Gov. Northam Refers to Slaves as “Indentured Servants” in TV Interview

A local newspaper the Richmond Free Press, with a front page featuring top Virginia state officials embroiled in controversies, sits for sale in a newsstand near the Virginia State Capitol, February 9, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia.
A local newspaper the Richmond Free Press, with a front page featuring top Virginia state officials embroiled in controversies, sits for sale in a newsstand near the Virginia State Capitol, February 9, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Gov. Ralph Northam started going on a bit of a media tour to defend his decision not to step down after he was engulfed in controversy following the revelation of a racist photo in his medical school yearbook page and his admission that he wore blackface. But in his second high-profile interview, Northam made news for all the wrong reasons again and made it even more difficult for people to believe his contention that he really is the right man to lead Virginia. In his first televised interview since he was engulfed in scandal, Northam referred to slaves as “indentured servants.”

“Well it has been a difficult week,” Northam said. “And you know if you look at Virginia’s history 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…” At that point CBS’ Gayle King interrupted him: “Also known as slavery.” Northam quickly answers “yes” and keeps going with his point.

Northam’s sit-down with CBS came out shortly after the Washington Post published its own interview with the governor in which he said he wanted to work toward “healing that pain” of racial inequality. But his interview on CBS seemed to illustrate why he may not be the best man for that job.

Northam’s choice of words were immediately seen as an example of how little he understands about American history and the history of African-Americans in his state and the country in general. “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,” wrote Symone Sanders on Twitter. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel points out that “this is a classic old white Virginia guy thing to believe” and really “gets back to whether he is the best person to lead ‘racial healing’.”