By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 2, 2019 | 8:05 p.m.
VIRGINIA – Calls for Governor Ralph Northam to resign from the top spot of Virginia’s Executive Branch have spanned across the aisles of Virginia’s legislative chambers and seen responses all the way from Washington after a page of his medical school yearbook where he is featured prominently included a racist image of two individuals, one in blackface and another wearing a Klu-Klux-Klan garb.
Friday, the image – which was discovered in a 1984 yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School – surfaced, prompting many lawmakers, who are currently in session at the General Assembly to call on Northam to explain why the offensive image was featured on a page that included his name and other images of him.
Later that evening, Northam issued a statement where 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.”
“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,” he continued. “But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”
Following his statements, Friday, Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Richmond voiced their disgust and disappointment in the imagery featured on the page, while also asking for Northam to step aside in the best interest of Virginia and its citizens.
“After seeing the yearbook pictures that surfaced of Governor Northam today, we were shocked, saddened and offended,” The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus said. “Virginia has a complicated racial history and past, and those pictures certainly reflect that. Blackface was used to ridicule African Americans and the Klan was a source of terror and intimidation.”
Those sentiments were shared by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus who said they found what was revealed to be “disgusting, reprehensible, and offensive.”
“We feel complete betrayal,” they said. “The legacy of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African Americans for over 400 years. 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.”
“Racism has no place in Virginia,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Jack Wilson said. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”
The Congressional Fourth District, made up of Prince George, Dinwiddie, Sussex, and Surry, among others, and represented by Rep. Donald McEachin also spoke out against the racist image that was found on Northam’s yearbook page.
“I am so deeply disappointed and dismayed by the horrific picture of Governor Northam that surfaced today,” he said. “Four hundred years ago, Africans arrived in this country, enslaved and kept as slaves for over two hundred years. Systemic racism is still endemic today in every part of America. Virginia has a particularly sordid history with racism from the first enslaved Africans on our shores, to the capital of the Confederacy to Massive resistance to the struggles African-American Virginians face today.”
He continued, “In light of that stain on our Commonwealth and the work that still needs to be done, I ask the governor to step aside. While I acknowledge his efforts on behalf of all Virginians and the good he has done as a senator, as our lieutenant governor and now as governor, Virginians have too much to overcome and too much healing yet in front of us.”
An excerpt from the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook which, on a page featuring Ralph Northam, features the image of two individuals, one in blackface and another in a Ku-Klux-Klan garb. (Eastern Virginia Medical School)
Over Saturday morning, calls for Northam’s resignation grew, with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, the Virginia Democrats, and others, including presidential candidate and Senator Kamala Harris (D – California) asking him to step down from office, all as Northam prepared to hold a second news conference Saturday where he walked back his statement from the previous day where he believed he was one of the two individuals in the image.
During the conference, Northam said, upon further reflection, he believes he was not either of the people featured in the offensive image while also admitting he had “darkened” his skin using “shoe polish” in 1984 as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance contest in San Antonio. He added that he was not aware of how that image appeared on his page but, Northam asserted that the possibility exists the image could be that of another classmate and it was placed on his page in error, saying, while he did submit the other three images on the page, he was not “the person in that uniform and I am not the person to the right.”
During the nearly half-hour press conference, he reaffirmed his plans to not resign in light of the revelations and that they are investigating the image and how it found its way on his page. He did say, should his ability to lead the Commonwealth be compromised in light of this situation, he would “have that discussion” regarding possibly stepping down from office.
After his early afternoon press conference, many were not swayed by his words in the Executive Mansion.
“We continue to echo the calls of our colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus for the Governor to resign,” Virginia House Democrats said in a statement. “Regardless of the Governor’s account of whether or not he was in the photo, he has lost the trust of constituents and elected officials. A leader must have the confidence of the people in order to effectively govern, and unfortunately, that is no longer the case for Governor Northam.”
If Northam were to resign, the role of governor would transition to Justin Fairfax, the Commonwealth’s current lieutenant governor. During his press conference Saturday, Northam said he and Fairfax were in close communications regarding the situation. Later that afternoon, Fairfax issued his own statement, his first since the image’s surfacing.
“Like so many Virginians, I am shocked and saddened by the images in the Governor’s yearbook that came to light yesterday,” he said. “They are an example of a painful scourge that continues to haunt us today and holds us back from the progress we need to make.” Fairfax continued, “The Governor needed to apologize, and I am glad that he did so. He also reached out to me personally to express his sincere regrets and to apologize,” calling Northam “a friend” that has “treated my family and me with hospitality and respect.”
The third member of the 2017 Democratic Ticket in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Attorney General Mark Herring issued his own statement, placing his support behind Fairfax while saying Northam’s time as governor needs to end in light of what has been discovered.
“It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down,” Herring said. “I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth.”
Two hours later, three more of Virginia’s prominent leaders in Washington, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, along with Congressman Bobby Scott issued a joint statement, requesting Northam to resign.
“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign,” they said. “Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.”
“No matter the era, or the messenger, blackface costumes and Ku Klux Klan regalia have represented terror and fear for communities of color since Reconstruction,” said Harrison Wallace, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in speaking with Capital News Service. “There is no excuse for wearing them.”