In his own words: Northam describes moonwalking in blackface, denies appearing in KKK photo
During a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion on Saturday, Gov. Ralph Northam denied appearing in a KKK yearbook photo but admitted to moonwalking in blackface. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
First, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam admitted he appeared in a racist yearbook photo showing a person in blackface and a person in a KKK robe.
Then he said it wasn’t him.
Then he gave a 40-minute press conference Saturday afternoon where he described an instance in which he did wear blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume, said he only applied a little shoe polish because of how hard it is to get off, and, at one point, appeared prepared to demonstrate the moonwalk before his wife stopped him.
Renewed calls for his resignation came instantly from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and House and Senate Democratic caucuses.
Here’s how Northam explained his actions:
On why he said he was in the photo Friday night and now says he is positive he was not in the photo:
I didn’t study it as well as I should have. … It has taken time for me to make sure that it’s not me.
My first attention was to reach out and apologize. As you might imagine and understand, there were a lot of people who were hurt by this and I wanted to reach out to them. After I did that last night, I sat and looked at the picture. Today I’ve had an opportunity to talk to classmates and my roommate and I am convinced that it is not my picture.
On why he says he didn’t know the photo was in his yearbook:
I had nothing to do with the preparation of the yearbook, nor did I buy one.
On how he thinks the photos got there:
I have also had a classmate who I discussed this with this morning … and I said, ‘Is there a possibility that someone could have put a photo on the wrong page.’ She said it happens on numerous pages in this very yearbook. So I still don’t have a copy of the yearbook. We are in the process of obtaining it. We are going to continue to gather evidence in the coming days. And I think all of you will be reassured to see that I am not in that photograph.
On how he expects people to believe him:
I’m accepting responsibility that this photograph was on my page in the yearbook. I regret that. It is horrific. It made me sick when I saw it. But I will tell you that my word, I will stand and live by my word. I was the president of the VMI Honor Court. Our code there is a cadet should not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. That’s the most meaningful thing to me in my life. I tell the truth. I’m telling the truth today. That was not my picture.
If I had dressed up like that, had put whatever that person’s face and stood beside a costume of the KKK, I would remember that. And I have no recollection at all.
On why his Virginia Military Institute yearbook lists one of his nicknames as “Coonman:”
My main nickname from high school and in college was Goose because when my voice was changing, I changed my octaves. There were two individuals … at VMI, they were a year ahead of me. They called me Coonman. I don’t know their motives or intent. I know who they are. But that was the extent of that and it ended up in the yearbook and I regret that.
On the time he wore ‘just a little bit of shoe polish’ as part of a Michael Jackson costume:
I’ll tell you exactly what I did. I dressed up in a, what’s his name, the singer, Michael Jackson. … I had the shoes. I had a glove. And I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put on my cheeks. And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don’t know if anybody’s ever tried this, but you cannot get shoe polish off. But it was a dance contest. I had always liked Michael Jackson. I actually won the contest because I had learned how to do the moonwalk.
On why he thinks wearing black face as part of a Michael Jackson costume is less offensive than the yearbook photo:
When I dressed up as Michael Jackson, it was a talent show. I didn’t personally find it unacceptable at that time. I have learned since then . … The picture though that is in the EVMS yearbook with the blackface and the member of the KKK is just horrific. It’s totally offensive. So I find both of them to be wrong. I wasn’t responsible for the first one.
On whether he can still moonwalk:[Looks around as if to see if he has enough space to moonwalk. His wife, Pamela Northam, stops him.] My wife says inappropriate circumstances.
On whether there are any photos of him in blackface:
On why he isn’t heeding calls for his resignation:
If I were to listen to the voices calling on me to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. … I cannot in good conscious choose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.
I believe this moment can be the first small step to open a discussion about these difficult issues and how they contribute to the greater racism and discrimination that defines so much of our history.
On his conversations with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would succeed him:
I have spoken to him in person for a good period of time yesterday afternoon after this story broke, and at least three times by phone I have kept him appraised of what’s going on. He has been very supportive and he will continue to be supportive. He is a wonderful person and you know the people of Virginia elected the lieutenant governor, put faith in the lieutenant governor in the event that they need to take over as governor he’ll be ready to do that.
On renewed calls for his resignation issued by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus as he was still taking questions from reporters:
Well, I will reach out to them. I will talk to them about this issue. I have made mistakes in my life, but what caused this stir up yesterday, I’m not responsible for. That is not me in that photo. And I would hope that all of the caucuses and the people of Virginia will realize that. That’s not me, that’s not who I am, and while I have made mistakes in my past, what started this yesterday, it’s not realistic and I just hope people will realize that.
On how he’ll decide whether to resign in the coming days:
We’re going to move forward from today. We’ll take one day at a time. Obviously we’ll have discussions with our caucuses, with the Republican caucuses, with the people of Virginia. And as long as I feel that I can lead, I will continue to do that. If I reach a point where I am not comfortable with that then obviously we’ll sit down and have that discussion.
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