Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and state first lady Suzanne Youngkin reopened public tours of the governor’s mansion earlier this month, but omitted a key part of the program that had previously been included — the acknowledgment that enslaved people had worked and lived on the grounds for five decades prior to the Civil War.
According to reporting from Virginia Public Media, the tour no longer mentions the enslaved workers who had been forced to live at the mansion from its opening in 1813 to the end of the Civil War; at a recent tour, the topic only came up after Suzanne Youngkin was specifically asked about slavery at the end of the presentation.
According to Suzanne Youngkin, the online version of the tour will include the topic of slavery sometime in the future, though she hasn’t given details about when. She claimed that discussion of enslaved people was excluded because enslaved people’s boarding houses, which still remain on the grounds, weren’t compliant with rules established in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
That doesn’t justify omitting the fact that enslaved workers had lived on the grounds altogether, however.
Previous versions of the tour by Glenn Youngkin’s predecessors included a discussion of enslaved workers, part of a multi-year attempt to explicitly acknowledge the role of slavery in the state and at the governor’s mansion. The Youngkins’ version of the tour apparently deviates from that effort.
“The missed opportunity is telling the stories of the people who made all that possible, the people whose labor was stolen for all of that to exist, the people who built that place physically,” historian Joseph McGill told Virginia Public Media. “You can call it racism, you could call it white supremacy.”
Youngkin was one of many GOP candidates who campaigned on attacking critical race theory, a collegiate-level examination of how racism has shaped U.S. institutions from the country’s founding to today. Youngkin’s path to electoral victory in the state included using critical race theory as a boogeyman, falsely claiming it had infiltrated K-12 public schools and that white students were being forced to study a divisive ideology that encouraged them to feel guilty about their race.
Youngkin’s first executive order as governor earlier this year was to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts.” After the state legislature passed a similar bill, the Virginia Education Association challenged the law. The organization’s president, James Fedderman, said the legislation made it more difficult for educators to teach an accurate portrayal of history.
“Many educators are on edge that no matter what they teach, it’s going to be reported to the snitch line,” Fedderman said in March, referring to a phone line Youngkin established to allow parents to complain about lesson plans they disapprove of.