‘Indentured servants!?’ Virginia ‘blackface’ governor’s euphemism for slavery triggers 2nd roasting

Already facing calls to resign over his ‘blackface’ scandal, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam triggered more outrage, mockery and some serious fact-checking, after referring to the first Africans in the US as “indentured servants.”

Some 400 years after the first Africans were brought to Point Comfort, known today as Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, American society remains divided over its bitter heritage – as well as the semantics of the term ‘slavery.’ A heated debate over the proper classification of first black settlers erupted on Sunday, after Governor Northam shared his perception of the history of the state.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam: “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—”@GayleKing: “Also known as slavery” pic.twitter.com/AiX96MU1rJ

— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) February 10, 2019

“The first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe, and while …” the governor was telling CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King before the presenter interrupted to correct the politician, clarifying that the term Northam used is much better known as “slavery.”

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The seemingly bizarre euphemism immediately drew criticism and mockery, yet some tried to defend the embattled governor noting he was “technically” correct to call that particular group “indentured servants,” because the term “slavery” was only introduced in Virginia state laws in 1661.

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.

— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) February 10, 2019

I’ll be clear about what I mean. Northam is actually correct about indentured servants arriving in 1619. I am happy that he is learning. He needs to grasp the history. But if he stays, what policies will he enact? Virginians need him to fight systemic racism, not pass an AP exam.

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) February 10, 2019

The specific group of Africans who came to Jamestown that he was referring to were indentured servants because modern chattel slavery hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, the racial caste system hadn’t, either. Both are uniquely American evils.https://t.co/fNDYgDhTWmpic.twitter.com/73bktwAsh1

— Naked Brunch (@HummingbirdRSO) February 10, 2019

He uses the term “indentured servants” b/c colonies had no slavery laws yet & there was a chance for release. But “indentured servant” implies choice: those men were kidnapped/forced to work. He knows that’s slavery. He whitewashes history like he tries to whitewash his racism.

— Gail Helt (@ghelt) February 10, 2019

Yet others argued that despite any legal shenanigans, the first Africans couldn’t be called anything but slaves, because they were traded as commodities.

TL;DR: the Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619 were not indentured servants. Saying they were deliberately effaces the long and violent history of slavery in Virginia and elsewhere. fin/

— Doctor Historianess (@historianess) February 10, 2019

Governor Ralph Northam should be ashamed of himself for referring to Slaves as Indentured Servants. He is out of touch and has lost touch. He needs to Resign!

— Diamond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) February 11, 2019

@GovernorVA did you really call slaves “indentured servants?” That comment makes my support of you after the blackface issue fizzle out. I thought you were not the same man as the one you were in black face but if you think slaves were indentured servants, you are.

— TheBSting (@TheBSting1) February 11, 2019

Thanks to @GayleKing for telling Gov Northam the people who came to Jamestown Va 400 years ago were not “indentured servants from Africa.” That kind of historically inaccurate euphemism does not serve his avowed intention of advancing the conversation about race.

— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) February 10, 2019

This a classic old white Virginia guy thing to believe — the lore is that they were indentured servants, but there are no records suggesting that. Gets back to whether he is the best person to lead “racial healing.” https://t.co/nTiKM3cC9w

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) February 10, 2019

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

— Symone D. Sanders (@SymoneDSanders) February 10, 2019

Northam’s controversial choice of words predictably triggered a new wave of calls for his resignation.

WAYMINT? Did he say indentured servants? Cancel this dude. I’m southern I’ve run out of “Bless His Hearts” if I ever had any.

— Kimberlyn Carter (@KimberlynCarter) February 10, 2019

I don’t always call slaves “indentured servants” but when I do, I make sure I’m packed up and ready to resign

— Ivan Valladares (@IvanSeattle) February 10, 2019

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