Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Saturday a new state commission to review educational standards for teaching black history in the state, as officials observed the arrival of enslaved Africans to what is now Virginia 400 years ago.
Northam, who noted “we are a state that for too long has told a false story of ourselves,” spoke at the 2019 African Landing Commemorative Ceremony in Hampton. The event was part of a weekend of ceremonies that are unfolding in the backdrop of rising white nationalism across the country and a lingering scandal surrounding Northam and a blackface photo.
Northam said he signed a directive to create the commission to review instructional practices, content and resources currently used to teach African American history in the state.
“We often fail to draw the connecting lines from those past events to our present day, but to move forward, that is what we must do,” said Northam, a Democrat. “We know that racism and discrimination aren’t locked in the past. They weren’t solved with the Civil Rights Act. They didn’t disappear. They merely evolved.”
In February, Northam faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture but admitted to wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s.
On Saturday, Northam said he has met with people around the state over the past several months to listen to views about inequities that still exist, prompting him to confront “some painful truths.”
“Among those truths was my own incomplete understanding regarding race and equity,” Northam said. “I have learned a great deal from those discussions, and I have more to learn, but I also learned that the more I know, the more I can do.”