Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has admitted to, and apologized for, his appearance in a 1984 yearbook photo featuring a “racist and offensive” blackface costume.
Several pictures of Northam appear in his 1984 yearbook page from the Eastern Virginia Medical School, according to images obtained by numerous newspapers. Northam is featured in other photos on the yearbook page, which includes some personal details about him.
But the image that drew concern was of a man wearing blackface and a bow tie, and standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan-style robe. The photo was first published by conservative blog Big League Politics. A spokesperson for the Eastern Virginia Medical School initially said, “We don’t know when or where the picture was taken and we don’t know anything about its content,” according to MSNBC.
Northam later confirmed its authenticity in a written statement Friday afternoon.
“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.”
“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,” he added.
Northam is a former US Army physician who allies have described as a staunch opponent of racism.
Some Republicans in Virginia have condemned the photo and called on Northam to resign.
“Racism has no place in Virginia. These pictures are wholly inappropriate,” Republican Party of Virginia chairman Jack Wilson said in a statement.
Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia said in a statement: “Issues of racial discrimination cannot be taken lightly & this type of behavior is dangerous & unacceptable in any form.”
Some of Northam’s colleagues in the Virginia Senate have come to his defense, while also condemning the photos.
“His whole life has been about exactly the opposite and that’s what you need to examine, not something that occurred 30 years ago,” Democratic state Sen. Richard Saslaw of Fairfax, Virginia, said of Northam, according to The Washington Post. “While it’s in very poor taste, I would think there is problem no one in the General Assembly who would like their college conduct examined.”
“I would hate to have to go back and examine my two years in the Army,” Saslaw added. “I was 18 years old and I was a handful, OK? His life since then has been anything but. It’s been a life of helping people, and many times for free.”
“He’s my friend and I will always stand up for him,” Republican state Sen. Richard Stuart, according to The Post.
Northam was already under heavy scrutiny after he defended a failed bill that would have eased restrictions for third-trimester abortions — such as reducing the number of physicians needed to approve of the procedure from three to one, according to The Virginian-Pilot.