On the first day of Black History Month, disturbing images of an American governor wearing either blackface or Klan robe and hood from 34 years ago surfaced. And while some are arguing it was a long time ago, in 1984 wearing blackface or KKK regalia, even in alleged jest was not acceptable.
The story by midnight Friday was less who is calling for the governor to vacate his office. Rather, it was who isn’t asking the governor to vacate his office. And by Saturday morning, Virginia’s GOP leaders in the House of Delegates had called for Gov. Ralph Northam to resign.
Also Saturday morning, Vice President Joe Biden said Northam had “lost all moral authority” should resign.
Indeed, calls for Northam to resign after the pictures were published by the Virginia Pilot and the Virginia GOP have quickly developed into a full chorus with Democrats leading the charge and Republicans right behind them.
Northam, a Physician, is a Democrat But the Refrain is Political Party is Irrelevant
“It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat. This behavior was racist and unconscionable. Governor Northam should resign,” tweeted Julián Castro, former San Antonio mayor and Democrat running in the 2020 presidential race.
By late Friday night, Democrat Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York had decided that she too would join the choir.
“There aren’t two sets of rules for our friends and our foes: Right is right and wrong is wrong. Americans deserve to be respected by their leaders, and racism cannot be excused in our government or anywhere else. Having seen the photo, I believe Governor Northam should resign.”
Senator Kamala Harris, also running for president in 2020, tweeted “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”
The photos are from Northam’s time at medical school at the Virginia Military Institute. The governor admits he’s one of the two people in the racist “costumes,” but does not say which he is. Northam is 6′ tall. The person in the Klan robe and hood is far shorter than the individual in blackface. Here’s a link to the yearbook.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a possible 2020 candidate for president, said, “These racist images are deeply disturbing. Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders – Republican or Democrat. Northam must resign.
And another presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker, tweeted late Friday night. His refrain the same.
These images arouse centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence and they’ve eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam’s ability to lead. We should expect more from our elected officials. He should resign.
The NAACP, Virginia Republicans & Democrats & Major Virginia Newspapers Call for Northam to Step Down
NAACP president Derrick Johnson made an immediate call for Northam to leave.
“Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay. No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior, which is why the @NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor @RalphNortham”
And the state GOP weighed in.
“@GovernorVA needs to explain this immediately.”
The editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch has called for Northam to resign: “He should, for the good of Virginia, step down from its highest office and allow Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to succeed him.”
Very late Friday night, Virginia’s House and Senate leaders made statements calling for Northam’s resignation.
The same request: leave office. Now.
Hours after the story broke, Northam issued a statement and then a video. In both, he’s seemingly resigned to stay on.
Northam Apologizes But Says He’s Not Resigning
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive. 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,” the statement continues. This behavior is not in keeping with whom I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service,” Northam said.
“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.”
Friday night, hours after he released his written statement, Northam took to Twitter and posted a video statement.
“My fellow Virginians, earlier today I released a statement apologizing for behavior in my past that falls far short of the standard you set for me when you elected me to be your governor. I believe you deserve to hear directly from me.”
Northam appears to say he’s not going to step down. But the drum is beating louder for him to do just that.
In a face-to-face meeting, it’s reported that members of the Virginia Black Caucus said Gov. Ralph Northam could not say if he was in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan hood and robes, as can be seen in the photo from the embattled governor’s college days.
The photos are from Northam’s time at medical school at the Virginia Military Institute. The governor admitted he was in the photo that shows two people in the “racist costumes,” but didn’t say which one he was, the shorter person in KKK uniform or the taller person in blackface.
“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,” the governor wrote.
Despite reports that Northam said he couldn’t remember on Friday which person he was, now, on Saturday morning, Northam is claiming he wasn’t even in the photos and suggested he’d use facial recognition software to prove it.
It’s reported Northam will make a statement at 2:30 p.m. Saturday given he’s “resisting pressure to quit …now says isn’t of him…”
But Virginia General Assembly member Lamont Bagby told a CNN reporter that Northam “could not tell them” which racist costume he wore.
“I spoke to @delegatebagby this morning of the @VaBlackCaucus- he was in the meeting with @RalphNortham yesterday and he confirmed that the Governor could not tell them which person he was in the racist photo.. the person in blackface or the person in the KKK hood.”
“From Bagby’s perspective, while both images are offensive, the KKK hood is a much bigger issue for him. He said the Caucus wanted to give Northam the chance to explain himself- but their conversation ultimately led to them asking him to step down.”
A Growing Chorale of Public Figures Are Demanding Northam Step Down, Sooner Rather Than Later
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who swept to a stunning victory to win a House seat, tweeted her statement. Within minutes, thousands reacted to her call for Northam to vacate his office.
“The bigotry depicted in this photograph is appalling. There should always be serious consequences for actions that demean, intimidate, or threaten our African-American communities. Such conduct is unacceptable for any Virginian whether occurring in the past, present, or future. Governor Northam must resign and fully acknowledge the painful past these images evoke. Bigotry has no place in Virginia.”
Former Senator Barbara Boxer joined the chorus saying Northam has disgraced the Democratic party and the nation.
“You can’t get much sicker than honoring the KKK. It’s not about apologizing, Governor, it’s about having failed to reveal and explain your deep racist past as you ran as a Democrat in the 21st century. You disgrace our party and our country. Resign.”
The George W. Bush administration’s top ethics lawyer and former longtime Republican turned Independent, Richard Painter tweeted
“This is not a high school yearbook. It’s a medical school yearbook. The photos are horrendous. Doctors are joking about alcohol abuse, denigrating blacks and celebrating the KKK. Northam must resign NOW!”
“Our governor can step aside and let others lead Virginia to a brighter future that lives up to our state’s history of breaking down barriers, or he can remain and serve as a symbol of our collective failures,” tweeted Ryan McElveen, a Progressive candidate for chairman of the Fairfax County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors with more than 3000,000 followers on Twitter. “Governor Northam should resign.”
“Governor Northam should resign. Our Commonwealth is better than this and deserves better than this,” tweeted former FBI director James Comey.
Former Virginia Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said Northam is a friend, but added his friend must leave office.
“This has been a heartbreaking day. Ralph Northam is my friend and he served well as my Lt. Governor and as Governor. His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time. The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It’s time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward.”
Northam is Fresh Off Another Controversy Involving a Virginia Abortion Bill. Planned Parenthood Has Called for Northam to Resgin
“There is no place for @GovernorVA’s racist actions or language in our democracy, or our country. He should resign immediately.”
Northam had just recently come under fire for his comments on third-trimester abortions, part of a Virginia House bill, that was seen by many an endorsement of infanticide given the bill would allow one physician to permit abortion up until just before birth if the mothers’ life is in jeopardy.
Many accused the governor of bowing to pressure from Planned Parenthood. The Washington Post reported in 2017 the Virginia Planned Parenthood affiliate contributed $3 million to Northam. Now, PP has called for Northam to resign.
This story will be updated.