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The revamped tour of Virginia's executive mansion doesn't mention slavery


In Virginia, historians and descendants of enslaved people have spent years reworking the tours of the governor's mansion, the executive mansion. They want it to focus on slavery that was practiced in that house in its early decades. Then Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin moved in, and the tour has changed. VPM's Ben Paviour took it.


GLENN YOUNGKIN: Good morning, everybody.

BEN PAVIOUR, BYLINE: It's been eight months since Glenn Youngkin traded his famous red fleece vest for a black suit and moved into Virginia's executive mansion. On a recent Friday, he invited the public to tour what he calls the people's house for the first time since the pandemic shut it down.

G YOUNGKIN: We continue to be so humbled when we wake up in the morning and we think about this home that we have the great privilege to live in.

PAVIOUR: The mansion, built in 1813, is the oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the country. The first lady, Suzanne Youngkin, says she selected artwork designed to get visitors to think about the state's history.

SUZANNE YOUNGKIN: What was really exciting, what was really not as pleasant - we really wanted to inspire people to think.

PAVIOUR: But there's one big omission on this tour - slavery. Enslaved people worked and lived here through the end of the Civil War, when Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. With the Youngkins, though, slavery only comes up after the tour when I bring it up with the first lady. She says a future online tour will get into that, and she said she plans to make the former slave quarters and a garden that honors them handicapped-accessible so more people can see them.

S YOUNGKIN: It is a place of reflection and reverence that I humbly think has been ignored.

PAVIOUR: Outside the mansion's gates, Youngkin supporters say he's shown up for Black Virginians. He's pushed for more funding for historically Black colleges and launched a new partnership with the mostly Black city of Petersburg. He announced the project last month.


G YOUNGKIN: Whether it's increased access to health care facilities, increased opportunities for mobility, expanded education options - you all spoke, and we listened.

PAVIOUR: But Don Scott, the top Democrat in Virginia's House of Delegates, isn't buying it.

DON SCOTT: If it's a mostly white conservative audience, he'll try to raise white grievance towards Black people. When he's with Black audiences, he'll say, we're going to teach all of the history.

PAVIOUR: Still, Youngkin is a coveted speaker for GOP candidates across the country this fall. That's fueled speculation that he may have his eyes on a new home, the White House.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Paviour in Richmond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Paviour
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