Virginia Gov. Northam Refers to Slaves As 'Indentured Servants'

By Susan Jones | February 11, 2019 | 5:34am EST
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) denied allegations that he is pictured in a yearbook photo wearing racist attire at a press conference at the Governor's mansion on February 2, 2019 in Richmond. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

( - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), under fire for the racism displayed in his medical school yearbook, avoided the word "slavery" in a weekend interview with CBS's Gayle King, until she corrected him.

Northam told King, "It has been a difficult week. 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--"

"Also known as slavery," King interrupted him.

"Yes," Northam said.

"Yes," King repeated.

Northam continued: "And while we have made a lot of progress in Virginia -- slavery has ended, schools have been desegregated, we have ended the Jim Crow laws, easier access to voting -- it is abundantly clear that we still have a lot of work to do. And I really think this week raised a level of awareness in the Commonwealth and in this country that we haven't seen, certainly in my lifetime."

There is a big difference between slavery (involuntary, inhumane) and indentured servitude (a voluntary contract whereby mainly white Europeans agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for passage to America and bed-and-board.)

The Africans who were brought to Point Comfort in 1619 were in fact enslaved. They were not indentured servants.

“In late August 1619, now believed to be on August 25th, the first ship carrying ‘20 and odd’ enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort in Virginia, where Fort Monroe is today,” says a National Park Service webpage about Fort Monroe. “They landed being treated as human cargo captured by the White Lion an English privateer ship from the Spanish slave ship São João Bautista or San Juan Bautista during a fierce battle in the Bay of Campeche.”

“Those first ‘20 and odd’ Africans who landed at Point Comfort,” the National Park Service says, “marked the beginning of 246 years of slavery in the United States.”

In his interview with CBS, Northam told King he believes he should stay in his job because he has had a "good first year" as governor.

"And I'm a leader," he told King. He noted that as a pediatric neurologist, "I have been in some very difficult situations, life-and-death situations, taking care of sick children. And right now...right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor."

Before the yearbook controversy erupted, Northam was under fire for seeming to endorse infanticide. Here is what he said in a Jan. 30 interview in defense of a bill in the Virginia Legislature that would have legalized abortions up to the moment birth:

"When we talk about third trimester abortions...If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and mother."

In his weekend interview with Gayle King, Northam said, "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. I have learned from this. I have a lot more to learn. But we're in a unique opportunity now, again, the 400-year anniversary of the history, whether it be good or bad, in Virginia, to really make some impactful changes."

King, referring to the "400-year anniversary," once again clarified: "Of slavery in this country?"

"Yes," Northam said. "In this state, yes."


MRC Store