On Friday, a photo of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook emerged, in which he posed either as a Ku Klux Klan member or done-up in blackface. (As of publication, it is unclear which person is Northam in the grainy snapshot from his yearbook page.) Regardless of which racist costume the then-25-year-old med student chose to wear, Democrats, allied groups, and state Republicans are now calling for his resignation as governor, a little over a year into his term.
“Racism has no place in Virginia,” said state GOP chairman Jack Wilson, who called for the governor’s resignation, while describing a commonwealth in which a notorious white nationalist rally occurred less than two years ago. Progressive groups like Daily Kos, Priorities USA, and MoveOn also want Northam out: aside from the fact that the picture plays into two of the nation’s cruelest post-Reconstruction racist institutions, Virginia is still a blue-leaning swing state, and having Northam in the party in 2020 could butcher the chances of down-ballet Democrats.
Shortly after the photo emerged, Northam apologized, saying he was “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 … I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused.” As pressure began to mount, Northam doubled down on his initial stance: “That photo, and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents, does not reflect the person I am today, or the way I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor, and a public servant.” Neither apology clarified if he was the Klansman or the person in blackface, although that question may be answered in a press conference scheduled for Saturday morning. According to Scott Wong, a reporter at The Hill, a Virginia Democrat who was on an emergency conference call said “he will likely resign in the morning.
If Northam resigns, he’ll be the most prominent politician in the unfortunate, and all-too-American history of white politicians resigning or losing elections after pictures of them in blackface have emerged. Just last week, Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Mike Ertel stepped down after a picture of him in blackface from 2005 was published in the Tallahassee Democrat. If he does resign, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax will become Virginia’s second black governor — the first, Douglas Wilder, who was elected in 1990, was the nation’s first African-American to ever hold that position.