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Virginia governor Ralph Northam apologizes for yearbook page showing men in blackface and KKK robe, but refuses to resign

A half-page from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, photographed by The Virginian-Pilot on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.
A half-page from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, photographed by The Virginian-Pilot on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. (Eastern Virginia Medical School)

A photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook shows him and another person in racist costumes — one wearing blackface and one a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, though it was not clear which person was the future governor.

The photo, which The Virginian-Pilot obtained a copy of Friday from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library, comes from the 1984 yearbook, the year Northam graduated.

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On the half-page set aside for Northam, there is a headshot of him in a jacket and tie, a photo of him in a cowboy hat and boots and a third of him sitting casually on the ground, leaning against a convertible.

The fourth photo on the half-page has two people, one wearing white Ku Klux Klan robes and a hood, the other with his face painted black. The person with the black face is also wearing a white hat, black jacket, white shirt with a bow tie and plaid pants. Both are holding canned drinks.

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In a statement Friday evening, Northam, a Democrat, confirmed he appears in the photo “in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” but did not specify which person is him.

“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,” Northam said. “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. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment. I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their governor.”

Under the racist photo are listed Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, and his interest: “Pediatrics.” His quote is listed as “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.”

In a Friday night address, Northam apologized directly to the people of Virginia but stopped short of resigning.

“That photo … does not reflect that person I am today or the way I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor and a public servant. I am deeply sorry … but I accept responsibility for my past actions,” said Northam in the 72-second posting.

The chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Jack Wilson, said in a statement: “Racism has no place in Virginia. These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

The photo came to light after a week in which the Democratic governor came under fire for his comments about a bill introduced by a first-term Democratic lawmaker that would have loosened restriction abortions in Virginia.

Conservative news outlet Big League Politics first posted the photo at around 2:15 p.m. Friday with the headline “YEARBOOK: Ralph Northam In Blackface & KKK Photo.”

About an hour later, the Virginia GOP caucus Twitter page tweeted, “@governorva needs to explain this immediately.”

On Wednesday, Northam was on a WTOP-FM show and was asked about a failed bill introduced by Del. Kathy Tran that would have relaxed limits on third-trimester abortions.

Northam, a child neurologist, defended Tran’s bill in the WTOP interview, saying it was “blown out of proportion” and that such abortions are done “in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that is nonviable.”

Explaining what would happen in such a case, Northam made comments that were soon seized on by political opponents and others: “The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

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