The Roanoke Times addresses the blackface controversy currently surrounding my governor and actually does some research. It traced down the text books that were in use when when Governor Northam was in school and points out that they grossly and purposefully misrepresented slavery, the Civil War, and the war’s aftermath.* Here’s a bit:
For instance, Northam is now under fire for referring to the first Africans in Virginia as “indentured servants.” Technically, he may be correct. Historians still debate the precise status of the first Africans brought to Virginia, because slavery was not codified until l662. In fact, that’s what the state’s textbooks taught: “At first, the Negroes were treated as indentured servants.” There is no mention of the fact that, whatever they were called, they weren’t free — that they’d been kidnapped from Africa and transported against their will across the Atlantic and in some cases treated as indentured servants “for life,” which is slavery by another name. Meanwhile, Virginia students were taught that those held in slavery were happy about their lot.
This is, of course, no excuse for being so stupid as to put on blackface in the first place, but it could be a mitigating factor for not realizing the full implications of doing so.
*They did. I had some of those same text books and, indeed, remember the lie about “indentured servants.”
But I was a history major in college, where I unlearned Virginia’s lies. I doubt that Mr. Northam, as a prospective med student, had one-twelfth the number of history classes that I did over four years of college and a year of grad work (which taught me that, however much I may have loved the study of history, I was not cut out to be a professional academician).