Ralph Northam Says He’s Not in Racist Yearbook Photo

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Getty Ralph Northam

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s yearbook from medical school shows two people in blackface and a KKK hood. After the photo was published, Northam admitted he was one of the men in the picture. However, he later gave a press conference in which he stated he is not 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,” the governor’s statement said. It didn’t say which costume he was wearing. Here’s a link to the actual yearbook.

However, CNN then reported that Northam had told a Democrat he now doesn’t think he was in the picture at all and had nothing to do with the yearbook’s production. Then, in a news conference, Northam insisted he’s not in the racist photo.

Northam also said he won’t resign. “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.” He said, though, that he once appeared as Michael Jackson in a dance contest and darkened his face for it. “I had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put under my — or on my — cheeks,” he said. “And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don’t know if anybody’s ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off.”

Here’s the governor’s full 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,” 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. 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.”

The revelation – reported in the Virginian-Pilot, which obtained the yearbook – comes as Virginia’s Democratic governor was already embroiled in heated controversy over comments he made about an abortion bill.

Heavy called and wrote Northam’s press office asking for comment; asking if Northam denies being one of those men in the photo; and, if he does, asking whether he knows who the men are and for their names. Then, the governor’s office released the statement.

The photo was first published on a conservative website called Big League Politics. The Republican Party of Virginia shared the story by Big League Politics, and wrote, “.@GovernorVA needs to explain this immediately.”

A follow-up tweet read, “Not surprised that @GovernorVA neglected to post about the first day of #BlackHistoryMonth.” After Northam admitted he was in the photo, the Virginia GOP released this statement: “What Ralph Northam did was unforgivable. Given his statements on the right to life coupled with the most recent revelations, he has lost the moral authority to continue to govern and should resign immediately.”

Some liberal organizations and politicians also called for the governor to resign, including the progressive group MoveOn.org, the NAACP, and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

Here’s what you need to know:

The Yearbook Photo Appears In a Medical School Yearbook

The Virginia newspaper reported that the photo appears in the 1984 edition of the Eastern Virginia Medical School library. Northam is a physician. According to his biography, Ralph Northam “served as an Army doctor, pediatric neurologist, business owner, state Senator and Lieutenant Governor” before becoming the 73rd governor of Virginia.

Underneath the photo of the men, which appears next to a photo array of Northam, there is listed: Northam’s alma mater the Virginia Military Institute; the interest “pediatrics,” and the quote: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.” You can see the blackface/KKK hood photo above and how it’s positioned near to other photos of Northam.

Another yearbook photo of Northam included the nickname “coonman.”

The racist photo shows the men holding beer cans. One is in a full KKK costume. The other is wearing blackface, a hat, and bowtie. Joan Naidorf, whose husband appears on a different yearbook page, told The Washington Post that Eastern Virginia Medical School, in the words of the Post, “allowed students to pick their own photos for their yearbook page.”

Northam’s biography says, “A native of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Governor Northam was educated at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where he graduated with distinction….He attended Eastern Virginia Medical School and then traveled to San Antonio for a pediatric residency, where he met his wife Pamela, a pediatric occupational therapist at the same hospital.”

In the earlier abortion controversy, Northam came under fire for saying, “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. 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.” The governor defended himself after criticism erupted regarding the abortion comments, saying, “I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting.”

In an unrelated incident, Florida’s new Secretary of State, Michael Ertel, recently resigned after an old photo showing him in blackface emerged.