“When my staff showed me the [racist] photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam told a room full of reporters on Saturday afternoon. “When I was confronted with the image yesterday I was appalled that they were on my page. But I believed then, and now, that I am not either of the people in that photo.”
It was less than 24 hours after the website Big League Politics broke the news of a racist photo, featuring a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robe, on Northam’s page from his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. Amidst a national outcry and widespread calls for his resignation from Democrats and Republicans, the governor claimed that after further reflection, he believed he was not pictured in the photo and that he does not intend to resign.
This declaration is in direct contradiction to his Friday evening written statement: "I am 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."
When asked about the discrepancy, Northam said that Friday was the first time he had seen the photo, and that his priority was extending apologies to those who were hurt by the image. He now believes that the photo was mistakenly printed on his page, he said, arguing that several mistakes occurred in that 1984 yearbook. He admitted that he submitted the other pictures on the page, but insisted that he has never seen the one depicting people in racist costumes.
During the bizarre press conference, Northam also admitted that he has intentionally “darkened” his face before. He recalled moonwalking as Michael Jackson with shoe polish on his face for a dance competition in San Antonio in 1984 -- which he says he won. His wife had to stop him from performing the dance move after a reporter's question. He added that he later discussed the decision with a friend of color, who explained the racist history behind blackface costumes.
“I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like this,” Northam said. “It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly do not believe I am in the picture in my yearbook.”
The press conference, attended by several dozen local and national reporters, followed a long morning of protests outside the governor’s mansion. Longtime activists like Richmond resident and community advocate Arthur Burton addressed a small but growing crowd as they held signs and chanted things like “Hey hey, ho ho, Northam has got to go.”
“We’re here today because we live in a state that has a history of violence and dehumanization and criminalization of people of color,” Burton told the crowd. “We’re here today standing in the very space that codified the law that created slavery and put us in a brutal system that we are still struggling to get out from under today. We’re here because the history of Jim Crow is obviously still alive and living up in the governor’s mansion.”
United States Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, as well as Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, released a statement on Saturday calling for Northam to resign. A Unity Protest to Demand Governor Northam Resign was being promoted on social media for Monday, Feb. 4 at N. 11th Street and East Broad at 10 a.m..