Updated: Since Friday, when a racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page came to public light, local leaders have joined the nationwide call for the governor to resign.
The photo, depicting a man in blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, circulated in media reports Friday. By that night, Northam issued an apology in a statement and a video.
However, during a press conference at the Executive Mansion on Saturday, has reversed his stance, saying he now does not believe he was in the photo and that the photo may have been one of several placed on the wrong pages in the yearbook. Northam said he did not own a copy of the yearbook and was unaware that the photo on was his page until it was circulated in media reports Friday.
Northam told reporters that he did not plan to resign and hoped to continue to use his position to better address racism and inequality in the commonwealth.
While he said he was positive he was not one of the men in the photo, Northam did acknowledge putting black shoe polish on his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume when he participated in a dance contest in San Antonio, TX, at the age of 25. Later, traveling with a campaign staffer, who was black, Northam said he came to learn of the offensiveness of blackface.
Northam’s announcement that he did not plan to resign followed a wave of criticism in which even his own state party leaders and closest allies called for him to step down. That push did not subside after his comments on Saturday afternoon.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus quickly called for Northam to resign and that position has been backed by many other elected Democrats, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the roster of Democrats running for president, and, by Saturday morning, the Democratic Party of Virginia.
On Saturday afternoon, Attorney General Mark Herring, a Leesburg resident planning to run for governor in the next election, also issued a statement calling for Northam to resign. “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth,” Herring stated.
Herring’s statement came nearly a day after many of his fellow elected Democrats took that position.
“That horrible photo that Governor Northam chose to publish in his medical school yearbook is racist and deeply offensive. That photograph is not reflective of the man and friend I’ve known for the past six years, but it is also not reflective of someone who should be leading our Commonwealth,” U.S. Rep. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-VA-10) said in a statement. “I spoke with the Governor tonight, and hope that he will do what is best to allow our Commonwealth to heal moving forward.”
Del. David Reid (D-32) stated on his Facebook page, “I deeply condemn the racist and offensive costumes displayed in Gov. Northam’s yearbook. Virginia’s history is marred by these symbols of hate, and there can be no exceptions to their complete condemnation wherever they are found. As we continue the fight for equality, we must do so without Gov. Northam. I look forward to working with my colleagues during the healing process that lies ahead.”
“Bigotry and racial hatred have no place in our society, period. I am extremely disappointed in Governor Ralph Northam’s deeply hurtful and inappropriate choices. I have supported many of his policies, and I believe he has been an effective Governor on many issues. However, we must send an unequivocal message that Virginians will not tolerate racism. If we don’t stand against his actions, we tacitly accept them, which we must not do when it comes to the character of the Governor of our Commonwealth,” stated Del. Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10). “In 1984 I was about the same age as the Governor, and my friends and I knew full well then that such behavior was wrong. Tonight I stand with members of the Virginia House Democrats and the House Black Caucus in calling for Governor Northam’s resignation.”
Del. John Bell (D-87) posted this statement: “I stand with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the House Democratic Caucus in calling for the immediate resignation of Governor Northam. The photo of Gov. Northam is deeply disturbing and should disqualify him from serving in Virginia’s highest office. Racism has no place in our Commonwealth and as leaders we must constantly work to uphold our own standards and lead by example.”
Saturday morning the Democratic Party of Virginia also called for Northam’s immediate resignation.
“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,” Chair Susan Swecker stated. “We stand with Democrats across Virginia and the country calling him to immediately resign. He no longer has our confidence or our support. Governor Northam must end this chapter immediately, step down, and let Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax heal Virginia’s wounds and move us forward. We can think of no better person than Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to do so.”
The president of the Loudoun Chapter of the NAACP, Pastor Michelle Thomas said the photo undermines the confidence that Northam can fairly govern.
“I love Governor Ralph Northam, But He Must Resign Immediately!” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Democrat or Republican, we can no longer turn a blind eye to racism, terrorism and hate, nor can we trust or be governed by leaders who do! On the 1st day of Black History Month, seeing the despicable racist blackface and KKK images of 25 year old Northam in 1984, has completely undermined all faith and confidence that African Americans and people of color can ever have in Northam’s ability to govern with fairness, equality and justice for all citizens. Virginians can no longer wait patiently for a departure of racist relics from the darkest parts of America’s history, we must rise up and demand it! We will must stand in solidarity, lift our unified voices and call for the immediate resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam.
“The Democratic Party has a long history of Dixiecrats, those in the party who opposed racial integration and wanted to retain Jim Crow laws and white supremacy in the face of possible federal intervention. Gov Northam’s racist adult photos are inexcusable! He was to old and had too many degrees to simply cast his behavior as foolish, childish fodder! 35 years later, while Ralph’s heart may have changed from blackface, his transparency has not! How entitled, culturally numb and insensitive do you have to be to think that you can cause racial harm and pain to people of color and keep your job as Governor, continuing to lead Virginia without example? We’re better than this!” Thomas wrote.