At a press conference Saturday afternoon, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) fought back against calls for his resignation after photos were released on Friday depicting him dressed either in “blackface” or in a Ku Klux Klan uniform in his 1984 medical college yearbook. Shortly after the photo went viral, Northam confirmed that it was him dressed as such, but would not say which one.
However, he then recanted, claiming that he was not one of the two men that appeared in racist garb.
The Virginian-Pilot reported the photo yesterday afternoon from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook.
Furthermore, a second photo surfaced of a yearbook Northam appeared in while at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in the early 1980s. His picture included multiple nicknames, one of which was “Coonman,” a racial epithet.
In the hours following the development, the governor released a statement:
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive. I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment. I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”
Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), GOP Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), and Majority Whip Nick Rush (R-Floyd) released a statement both condemning the photos and calling from Northam’s resignation:
“When the racist picture first emerged Friday, we were shocked and repulsed. The photo is disturbing and offensive, as unacceptable in 1984 as it is today. We withheld judgement last night while awaiting an explanation from the Governor believing the gravity of the situation deserved prudence and deliberation,” they said.
The Republican leadership added, “We agree with the powerful words of our colleagues in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and believe that because of this photo the Governor has lost the confidence of the citizens he serves. While we respect the Governor’s lifetime of service, his ability to lead and govern is permanently impaired and the interests of the Commonwealth necessitate his resignation.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus’ statement said:
“We fully appreciate all he has contributed to our Commonwealth. But given what was revealed today, it is clear he can no longer effectively serve as Governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”
Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Jack Wilson appeared on CNN Friday night with Anderson Cooper, also stating that Governor Northam “should resign for the good of the Commonwealth.”
Northam then released a video statement reaffirming his stance to remain in office until the end of his four-year term.
“That photo, and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents, does not reflect that person I am today, or the way I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor, and a public servant,” the governor said.
“I am deeply sorry. I cannot change the decisions I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today. But, I accept responsibility for my past actions, and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” he added.
This apology, however, did not clear the air as of Saturday morning when hundreds of protesters convened in front of the Executive Mansion in downtown Richmond calling for the governor’s resignation. As well, hundreds of lawmakers and elected officials from the Commonwealth and across the country charged him to step down as the political leader of Virginia.
The Democratic Party of Virginia said on Twitter this morning, “We made the decision to let Governor Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning – we have gotten word he will not do so this morning.”
At a press conference Saturday afternoon just after 2:30, Governor Northam again denied that he was depicted wearing the racist outfits found in the 1984 yearbook.
Speaking to a crowd of reporters, he called the photo “racist,” “offensive,” “despicable,” “disgusting,” “horrific,” and “shocking.”
Northam claimed he was “seeing it [the photo] for the first time,” adding that he “did not purchase” the EVMS yearbook.”
“I am not either of people in that photo,” he stated, standing by his apology, but said he was “not surprised by its placement in the EVMS yearbook.
Interestingly, the governor then told a story about an instance in 1984 where he did appear in blackface at a “dance contest” in San Antonio, Texas, as Michael Jackson. He said he had “shoe polish” on his “cheeks” as a part of the costume.
“I have always liked Michael Jackson. I won the contest,” adding that he “learned to do the moonwalk.”
When asked about the second photo that surfaced where the racial epithet was listed as a nickname under his photo, he explained that some upperclassmen gave him the name during his first years at VMI.
As for the future of Governor Northam’s term, which ends in January 2022, he said “if we’re not effective or efficient” then he would “revisit this and make decisions.”