Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s media apology tour is off to a rough start.
Northam went on “CBS This Morning” in an interview that aired Monday in an effort to save his political career after reporters uncovered a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.
At the top of the interview, Northam referred to “the first indentured servants from Africa” who arrived in Virginia, and is now facing backlash from critics accusing him of minimizing historic horrors with a euphemism for slavery.
“Well, it has been a difficult week,” Northam said after the first question from CBS’ Gayle King. “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.”
“Also known as slavery,” King said.
“Yes,” Northam said.
Commentators on social media sharply criticized his reference to indentured servants.
“Words like ‘Indentured servant’ is how people try to erase the pain and horrors of slavery. It is how they think it harmless to wear blackface. @RalphNortham is done. If he won’t resign, he needs to be forced out,” author Julissa Arce tweeted.
But others defended Northam and said he was correct about the status of the Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619.
“Folks, learn your damn history. Northam is correct. First black Africans brought to Virginia in 1619 were indentured servants. @GayleKing is wrong. There were no laws for slavery in VA til 1661. The evolution from IS to slavery is essential to understand depth of evil of slavery,” author Kurt Eichenwald tweeted.
“That 50 year transformation for black Africans from IS to slavery is the ultimate proof of the racism that drove slavery, because few other indentured servants were made slaves,” Eichenwald added.