RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam said Saturday that he is not either of the people in the racist photo that appeared in his medical school yearbook.
Friday, he took responsibility for that photo but says in the hours following, he reflected with family and friends and does not believe the photo is of him because he has no memory of it. Northam said that Friday was the first time he saw the yearbook that includes someone in blackface and a KKK robe.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks. Was totally caught off guard when I saw the picture,” Northam said.
While Northam said this is not him in the photo, he said that he did dress up as Michael Jackson when he was 25 years old and darken his face then on a separate occasion in San Antonio for a dance contest.
He said he plans to have more information about the photo in the coming days, and will do what is needed to prove that he is not the one in photo. Northam said that there were several mistakes in the yearbook and believes this photo was one of those mistakes.
The governor said that as long as he feels he can lead, he will remain in office.
On Saturday, Virginia Democrats posted to social media that “We made the decision to let Governor Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning - we have gotten word he will not do so this morning.”
The group says “he no longer has our confidence or our support” and said that it is time for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax “heal Virginia’s wounds and move forward.”
“I have spent the past year as your governor fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people. I am committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term,” Northam said.
If Northam were to eventually resign, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become governor.
In Virginia, governors are limited to one term in office, but Fairfax would be eligible to run for governor in 2021 since he was not originally elected to that position.
Condemnation was swift after the picture from a yearbook emerged. The picture appears on the same page with pictures of Northam from a 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The school confirmed the page’s authenticity to NBC news.
In an earlier statement, Northam said he was “deeply sorry” for the decision to appear in the photo and “the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
The statement said, “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. 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.”
The picture first surfaced after being posted to Twitter by a right-wing blog. Northam did not specify what he is wearing in the picture.
Northam, a Democrat, was targeted by conservatives earlier in the week over comments made regarding a bill that would have lessened restrictions on third-trimester abortions.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly called the picture “deeply disturbing." In a statement, House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City), House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Senate Rules Committe Chairman Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) said. “This is a deeply disturbing and offensive photograph in need of an immediate explanation by the governor.”
President Donald Trump echoed his sentiments via Twitter, calling Northam’s appearance in the photo “unforgivable!”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a Democrat, echoed called for the governor to resign as did congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) who was recently elected to represent Virginia’s 7th District.
“Governor Northam has a long and distinguished history of service to our Commonwealth and nation, but he should do the honorable thing and step down," Stoney said in a statement.
Virginia Attorney General Mark. R. Herring (D-VA) has called for Northam to resign in a statement, saying “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a former Virginia governor himself, told CNN’s Manu Raju, “The racist photo from Governor Northam’s 1984 yearbook is horrible. This causes pain in a state and a country where centuries of racism have already left an open wound. I hope the Governor, whose career as an Army officer, pediatrician and public official has always manifested a commitment to justice and equality for all, now takes the time to listen to those he has hurt and reflect on how to move forward.”
Kaine, along with Congressman Bobby Scott and Senator Mark Warner, both Democrats, later released a joint statement urging Northam to step down.
Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax released a statement saying, “While his career has been marked by service to children, soldiers and constituents, I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation. At this critical and defining moment in the history of Virginia and this nation, we need leaders with the ability to unite and help us rise to the better angels of our nature. I remain committed to serving and helping to heal the Commonwealth moving forward. Now more than ever, we must make decisions in the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
A statement from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called the photo, “disgusting, reprehensible and offensive.”
“We feel complete betrayal,” VLBC said in its statement. “These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins. Those who would excuse the pictures are just as culpable.”
Several prominent leaders have said Northam should resign over the photo, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson tweeted. “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 Ralph Northam.”
A second photo from Northam’s 1981 Virginia Military Institute has begun being shared online with one of Northam’s nicknames listed as “Coonman.”