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.