Virginia governor resists calls to resign over racist yearbook photo
Image from 1984 shows people in blackface, KKK robe
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized on Friday for a racist photo in which he appeared more than 30 years ago, but said he did not intend to heed calls to resign from both Republicans and prominent fellow Democrats, including several presidential hopefuls.
The 1984 yearbook images were first published Friday by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The Virginian-Pilot later obtained a copy from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Northam attended. The photo shows two people looking at the camera — one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.
An Associated Press reporter saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.
In his first apology, issued in a written statement Friday night, Northam called the costume he wore "clearly racist and offensive," but he didn't say which one he had worn.
He later issued a video statement saying he was "deeply sorry" but still committed to serving the "remainder of my term."
"I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust," Northam said.
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 <a href="https://twitter.com/NAACP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NAACP</a> is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor <a href="https://twitter.com/RalphNortham?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RalphNortham</a>—@DerrickNAACP
Northam's political viability hinges on whether he can maintain support among the state's black pastors, officials and state lawmakers, many of whom have long personal relationships with the governor since he first ran for state Senate in 2007.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement late Friday saying "we feel complete betrayal" and are "still processing" the pictures.
"What has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible and offensive," the statement said.
Allies call for his resignation
Others said there was no question he should step down. Among them: Democratic presidential hopefuls Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand; newly elected Democratic U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.
State Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a close ally of Northam and longtime African-American lawmaker, described a hastily called conference call with black leaders around the state as "intense," her voice breaking, but did not elaborate.
Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He's a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia's Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
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.—@KamalaHarris
These racist images are deeply disturbing. Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders – Republican or Democrat. Northam must resign.—@ewarren
"It's a matter of relationships and trust. That's not something that you build overnight," Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community.
Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many Republican lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
Last week, Florida's secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.