VA governor who made controversial abortion remarks admits to being in racist photo

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Northam VMI photo-873703993

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D), already under fire for comments made on abortion earlier this week, is under increased scrutiny after it was revealed his medical school yearbook page features racist images. 

The photos inside Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook show a person in a Ku Klux Klan outfit and another in blackface. On Friday night, Northam admitted in a statement that he was one of the two people pictured but didn’t say whether he was in the KKK robe or blackface. 

Here’s the full statement from Northam’s office: 

“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.”

That news has sparked numerous calls for the governor’s resignation, with progressives as well as conservatives speaking out.

The head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Derrick Johnson, wants Northam to step down. 

“Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay. No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior, which is why the @NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor @RalphNortham,” Johnson tweeted Friday night. 

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D) agreed: “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”

The Virginia GOP is also pushing for his resignation. 

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

Speaker Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) issued this statement in response: 

“This is a deeply disturbing and offensive photograph in need of an immediate explanation by the Governor.”

State Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) said Friday night that the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus was meeting in response to the news. 

“If it is true, it is very disappointing. We hold him to a higher standard,” Norfolk City Councilman Paul Riddick told 10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox in response to the revelation.

Eastern Virginia Medical School is in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood. Northam graduated from EVMS in 1984. 

An EVMS spokesperson declined to comment on the picture but did say that in 1984, the yearbook was a student-run activity, implying there wasn’t administrative oversight. 

The yearbook page also lists Northam’s undergraduate alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, where another yearbook photo features a nickname with racist connotations. 

WRIC in Richmond uncovered a photo from VMI’s archives that shows Northam with the nicknames “Goose” and “Coonman,” the latter relating to a derogatory term directed at African-Americans. Northam has yet to comment on that photo. 

The EVMS yearbook page also lists his future occupation in pediatric medicine and features a quote saying, “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.” 

Northam has been under the microscope this week following comments made on a late-term abortion bill that failed in the Virginia General Assembly, even drawing the ire of President Donald Trump. 

Northam defended the comments following the backlash, saying critics used them for political gain. 

“I regret that those comments have been mischaracterized,” he said Thursday. 

Northam, a native of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, served as the commonwealth’s lieutenant governor from 2014-2017 prior to defeating Republican Ed Gillespie in 2017 to become Virginia’s 73rd governor.

Northam was propelled by a mix of liberal and moderate voters, with the win interpreted as another message of dissent against President Trump. Hillary Clinton won Virginia in 2016 with 49.6 of the popular vote. 

If Northam were to resign, Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax, also a Democrat, would be next in the line of succession. Fairfax is Virginia’s only current black statewide official and only the second African-American in the commonwealth’s history elected to statewide office. 

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who is also African-American, sent out a statement Friday night before Northam’s comments. 

“This is deeply disappointing and offensive,” he said. “I want to hear what Governor Northam has to say on this.”

The news of Northam’s yearbook page comes on the first day of Black History Month in the United States. 

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