Home Politics Ralph Northam in “clearly racist” photo with blackface, KKK robe; vows to...

Ralph Northam in “clearly racist” photo with blackface, KKK robe; vows to serve out term | Virginia Politics | pilotonline.com

A photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook shows him and another person in racist costumes — one wearing blackface and one a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, though it was not clear which person was the future governor.

Hours after the 35-year-old photo came to light Friday, Northam apologized for his decision to appear in it. Elected officials and activist groups from across the political spectrum called for him to resign.

But in a video posted to Twitter Friday evening, Northam said he had spent the past year “fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people” and he would continue to do so throughout the rest of his term, which ends in January 2022.

“I accept responsibility for my past actions, and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” he said.

The photo, which The Virginian-Pilot obtained a copy of Friday from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library, comes from the 1984 yearbook, the year Northam graduated and turned 25.

On the half-page set aside for Northam, there is a headshot of him in a jacket and tie, a photo of him in a cowboy hat and boots and a third of him sitting casually on the ground, leaning against a convertible.

The fourth photo on the half-page has two people, one wearing white Ku Klux Klan robes and a hood, the other with his face painted black. The person with the black face is also wearing a white hat, black jacket, white shirt with a bow tie and plaid pants. Both are holding canned drinks.

In a statement Friday evening, Northam, a Democrat, confirmed he appears in the photo “in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” but did not specify which person is him.

“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,” Northam said. “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.”

Under the racist photo are listed Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, and his interest: “Pediatrics.” His quote is listed as “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.”

EVMS spokesman Vincent Rhodes said Dr. Richard V. Homan, president and provost of the school, couldn’t comment on the incident because he’s out of the country on personal travel and won’t return until Monday. Rhodes said the yearbook was started in 1974 but hasn’t been produced since 2012. He called it a “student-run activity,” though he couldn’t confirm whether any faculty or staff advisers oversaw the project.

“My understanding is they (did) not, but I can’t definitively say,” he said.

Rhodes couldn’t confirm which costume Northam was wearing in the photograph, saying the school would have no way of knowing.

“We obviously don’t think that type of photo would be appropriate to publish in the yearbook,” he said.

Republican officials quickly responded to the photo, but several top Virginia Democrats stayed quiet.

The chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Jack Wilson, said in a statement: “Racism has no place in Virginia. These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

In a separate statement, four top Republican lawmakers — House of Speaker Kirk Cox, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Ryan T. McDougle — said: “This is a deeply disturbing and offensive photograph in need of an immediate explanation by the governor.”

Mark Herring, the Democratic state attorney general, did not respond to requests for comment through his office. The office of Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who will become governor if Northam resigns, had no comment.

The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus said in a statement that members were still processing the photo of the governor.

“What has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible and offensive,” the caucus said. “We feel complete betrayal. The legacy of slavery, racism and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African Americans for over 400 years. These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins.”

The statement continues, “Those who would excuse the pictures are just as culpable.”

As news of the photo spread Friday night, so did calls for the governor’s resignation. The list included progressive groups such as MoveOn, Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Julian Castro, and the NAACP.

“No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior,” Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, said on Twitter.

Newport News Mayor McKinley Price, who said he’s known Northam since he served as lieutenant governor, said calls for Northam’s resignation were an overreaction.

“The governor has acted as a proper governor, and knowing him personally, his values and his goals are something that I would continue to support,” Price said.

Price, who is black, said the photo was a “reflection of a segregated society,” something he has tried to end in his career as an elected official.

“I think if people are true to what they will admit, everybody has had some bigotry or racism in their life,” Price said. “I think this should be looked at as an opportunity for us to do what, quite frankly, we haven’t done, and that’s (having) an open and frank discussion about bigotry and its effects.”

Walter Broadnax Jr., who graduated from EVMS in 1984 along with Northam, described Northam as a “fantastic guy.”

Northam studied pediatrics while Broadnax studied surgery, and the two knew each other well in a class of about 100 students.

Broadnax, who is black, said by phone Friday evening that he had never seen a hint of racial bias from Northam.

“I’ve never had an issue with Ralph at all,” he said. “The man’s a great guy. Always has been.”

Long week

The photo came to light after a week in which the governor came under fire for his comments about a bill introduced by a first-term Democratic lawmaker that would have loosened abortion restrictions in Virginia.

Conservative news outlet Big League Politics first posted the photo at around 2:15 p.m. Friday with the headline “YEARBOOK: Ralph Northam In Blackface & KKK Photo.”

About an hour later, the Virginia GOP caucus Twitter page tweeted, “@governorva needs to explain this immediately.”

Reporters and others soon started calling EVMS’s Brickell Medical Services Library seeking information about the yearbook, said Kerrie Shaw, director of library services.

Shaw remembers Northam from his days as a student. He would regularly come check on her when she was pregnant, stopping by her desk while she worked and asking how she was doing.

“I love Ralph Northam,” Shaw said.

EVMS sent an email to everyone on campus at about 6:30 p.m. Friday, asking people not to communicate with news outlets without permission and to refer reporters to its marketing and communications team. It emphasized the school’s intent to “recruit, educate and train a culturally competent healthcare workforce that reflects the demography of the nation and the patients we serve.”

“Please understand we do not know when the photo was taken or have any details about who may be pictured in it,” the email stated.

On Wednesday, two days before the yearbook photo became public, Northam was on a WTOP-FM show and was asked about a failed bill introduced by Del. Kathy Tran that would have relaxed limits on third-trimester abortions. The bill would have cut the number of doctors required to sign off on such an abortion from three to one and changed the standard.

Current law says that before approving a third-trimester abortion, a doctor must find that continuing the pregnancy would result in death and “substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” Tran’s bill would have allowed the procedure to avoid “impairing” a woman’s mental or physical health.

The bill, which Democrats have tried to pass in the General Assembly in recent years, was killed in a subcommittee.

Northam, a child neurologist, defended Tran’s bill in the WTOP interview, saying it was “blown out of proportion” and that such abortions are done “in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that is nonviable.”

Explaining what would happen in such a case, Northam made comments that were soon seized on by political opponents and others: “The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

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