Northam acknowledges appearing in blackface, KKK costume photo, but resists calls to resign

By: - February 1, 2019 7:44 pm
Gov. Ralph Northam

Gov. Ralph Northam walks to the governor’s Mansion after presiding over a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam apologized Friday evening for a photo in his medical school yearbook showing a man in blackface and a person wearing a KKK robe, but resisted growing calls for his resignation, saying he intends to serve out the remainder of his term.

In a statement, Northam said he was “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.”

He added: “This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today.”

While he confirmed he was in the photo, he did not say whether he was the person wearing black face or the person wearing the KKK robe.

The images began circulating Friday afternoon after they were published by right-wing news site Big League Politics. Staff at the Eastern Virginia Medical School library confirmed to the Mercury that the images were genuine and The Virginian-Pilot also independently obtained a copy.

The revelation came at the end of a week that thrust Virginia into the national spotlight via a debate over abortion restrictions.

“I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused,” Northam said in a statement. “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.”

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said in a statement it was “still processing what we have seen about the governor but unequivocally say that what has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible and offensive.

“We feel complete betrayal. … These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins. Those who would excuse the pictures are just as culpable.”

Northam resisted calls to resign, which have come from both the right and left, saying in a video he posted on Twitter that he intends to serve out the remainder of his term.

Among those calling for him to step down on Friday evening were the head of the national NAACP, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and two of the state’s newly elected Democratic congresswomen, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria.

“This isn’t about politics, this is about what is right and wrong,” Luria wrote.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.