Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam denies being in racist photo but recalls darkening his skin in Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984
RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he does not believe he is either person in the racist photo that appeared in his 1984 yearbook but that he did once darken his face to resemble Michael Jackson during a dance contest in 1984.
Northam based his belief that he was not in the yearbook photo on his recollection that he had separately darkened his face to resemble Michael Jackson in 1984 during a dance contest in San Antonio.
“I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo,” Northam said. “This was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam.”
Despite numerous calls for him to resign, Northam said he would not do so.
“I intend to continue doing the business of Virginia,” he said, adding that resigning would be the easier way out.
“I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”
Northam told reporters that while he took responsibility for the photo shown in the yearbook, yesterday when his staff showed him the photo was the first time he saw it. He said he did not purchase the yearbook and was not aware of the photo in question.
Asked about whether he had ever worn a KKK uniform as was seen in the photo, he answered, “I am not the person in that uniform, and I am not the person to the right.”
On the dance contest in San Antonio, Northman said he did not go in full blackface but used “a little shoe polish” to darken his cheeks.
“I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” he said.
As for his inconsistency on whether he was or wasn’t in the photo, Northam said he was able to sit down last night and take full stock of the photo.
“What has happened, I finally had a chance to sit down and look at the photo in detail. It is definitely not me,” he said in response to questions.
On the nickname in his VMI yearbook — “Coonman” — Northam said there were only two people he knew who ever called him that, but that his primary name was “Goose.” He said he did not know why the two people called him “Coonman.”
Northam also denied ever appearing in a KKK robe and hood.
“That is not my picture, that is not my person,” he said. I am “not the person in that uniform.”
On Justin Fairfax, his lieutenant governor, Northam said he had talked to him at least three times since the controversy began.
“He has been very supportive, and he will continue to be supportive,” he said. “He is a wonderful person.”
Northam also denied that he was ever drunk enough to not remember appearing in a costume like that.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is digging in.
Northam, less than 24 hours after he apologized for appearing in a racist yearbook photo showing one person dressed in blackface and another in the Ku Klux Klan’s signature white hood and robes, will not resign at a news conference here in Richmond on Saturday, his spokeswoman said, despite mounting pressure to do so, and the embattled governor has told a top Virginia Democrat that he now believes it is not him in a racist yearbook photo.
The reversal is a direct contradiction to what Northam said on Friday evening, when he released a statement saying that he was in the photo.
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” he said Friday.
Northam told the top Virginia Democrat he was in touch with some of his former Eastern Virginia Medical School colleagues since issuing the apology. Those former classmates said they believed many of the pictures in the yearbook were mixed up.
Northam did not recall the picture being taken, he told the source, and said he was not involved in the production of the yearbook.
The New York Times first reported Northam was making calls.
Northam’s decision to stay in office bucks a cacophony of calls from national and Virginia Democrats, including the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia House and Senate Democrats and the Democratic Party of Virginia, all of whom called on the governor to step down.
“We just finished meeting with the governor. We fully appreciate all that he has contributed to our Commonwealth. But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as Governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing,” the black caucus said in a statement.
Del. LaMont Bagby, a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus told CNN Saturday that during their meeting with Northam Friday night, that the governor could not recall when the racist photo was taken that appeared in his medical school yearbook.
When pressed by the caucus, Northam said he did not know which person he was in the photo — the person in blackface or the person in the KKK outfit.
Northam was also asked to leave by former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe — who was governor when Northam was lieutenant governor. McAuliffe and Northam had a “long talk” before the former governor’s Friday statement went out, according to a source with knowledge of the call, and McAuliffe informed Northam that he was going to publicly ask for his ouster.
McAuliffe and Northam have not talked on Saturday, a source told CNN.
The racist photograph, which was obtained by CNN, that appears in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook shows one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK’s signature white hood and robes.
The photo was first reported by conservative website Big League Politics.
The apology was far from enough for Virginia Democrats and a host of protestors who gathered outside Northam’s executive mansion on a chilly Saturday morning to demand his ouster.
Chanting for him to resign, the protestors excoriated Northam for the photo.
“We are here today because the history of Jim Crow is still alive and living in the Governor Mansion,” said community activist Art Burton, who also touched upon Richmond’s racist roots as the capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Burton and others said bluntly that Northam’s apology was far from enough.
In his statement Friday, Northam said 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 said.
Northam, a former pediatric neurosurgeon and Army doctor, won the governorship in 2017.
If Northam were to heed the calls of those prominent Democrats looking to pressure him into stepping down, Justin Fairfax, the 39-year old, African American lieutenant governor, would be elevated to governor.
Fairfax, a former prosecutor, was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2018 with the manumission — a document proving the release from slavery — of his ancestor in his front pocket.
Fairfax and Northam spoke on Friday, a spokesman for Fairfax told CNN, but the tenor of the call was not disclosed.