Photographs that may depict Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, in blackface, began to circulate on Friday afternoon. The photos date from Northam’s time at Eastern Virginia Medical School and appear to have been published in the school’s yearbook in 1984, the year of his graduation. The Virginian-Pilot reports:
“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.”
The medical school confirmed the authenticity of the photos in a statement to WUSA News Channel 9:
Some Democratic lawmakers defended Northam in comments to the Washington Post.
“His whole life has been about exactly the opposite and that’s what you need to examine, not something that occurred 30 years ago,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). “While it’s in very poor taste, I would think there is problem no one in the General Assembly who would like their college conduct examined. I would hate to have to go back and examine my two years in the Army. trust me. I was 18 years old and I was a handful, OK? His life since then has been anything but. It’s been a life of helping people, and many times for free.”
The photos first appeared on BigLeaguePolitics.com, a right-wing website founded by former Breitbart writer Patrick Howley. The Virginian-Pilot and the Washington Post then picked up the story. The Virginian-Pilot and the Post have not yet been able to confirm the identity of either man, and a spokesperson for the Virginia Democratic Party did not return a request for comment by press time. Northam was already weathering controversy for remarks he made regarding an abortion bill proposed by Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly. Right-wing websites incorrectly claimed that the governor had endorsed infanticide.
If Northam resigns, he will be replaced by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. Fairfax would become only the second African-American governor in Virginian history. L. Douglas Wilder was the first – and he, like Fairfax, first held statewide office as lieutenant governor. In 2017, a union supporting Northam’s bid for governor distributed campaign flyers that featured every Democratic candidate for statewide office except for Fairfax, the only African-American on the ticket. The union, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said at the time that it was because Fairfax opposed the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines, which the union supported.
On Friday evening, the governor released a statement that appears to confirm that he was one of the two men in the photo. It’s still not clear if he intends to resign:
After Northam released his apology, CBS News reported another racist yearbook entry from his time at the Virginia Military Institute:
This post has been updated.