Gov. Northam ‘deeply sorry’ for EVMS yearbook photo including blackface, Klan costumes; says he will not resign

Posted at 4:19 PM, Feb 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-01 16:22:16-05

NORFOLK, Va. - One day after addressing the backlash for supporting a state measure that would significantly loosen restrictions on late-term abortions in Virginia, a photo of two people on Governor Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook page has surfaced.

The photo, which appears on his page in an Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook from 1984, shows two people: one appearing to be dressed in blackface and another appearing to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

An accompanying quote under the photo reads: "There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I'll have another beer."

Conservative website Big League Politics first reported the photo. News 3 reporter Brendan Ponton went to the EVMS library in Norfolk Friday afternoon and found the page on which the photo appears.

EVMS also confirmed that the photo does appear in the 1984 yearbook, which was a student-produced publication. The school provided a scan of the page.

There were roughly 95 other students who appeared to be in Northam's graduating class.  Most of the pictures showed graduates with their spouses, loved ones and friends. Some of them have poems, words of inspiration and information about their personal likes and where they are from.

News 3 reporter Margaret Kavanagh also found another picture of people appearing to be in blackface on the page right before Northam's:

The EVMS library is open to the public and provides access to its materials.

Northam later released a statement confirming that he is one of the people in the photo, though he did not specify which one:

“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.”

House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) today issued the following statement:

"This is a deeply disturbing and offensive photograph in need of an immediate explanation by the Governor."

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said the organization is calling for Northam's resignation:

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus released a statement calling the photo "disgusting, reprehensible and offensive:"

"As we stated on the House floor today, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. We are still processing what we have seen about the Governor but unequivocally say what what has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible and offensive. We feel complete betrayal. The legacy of slavery, racism and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African-Americans for more than 400 years. 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."

Later Friday, the caucus said while they "fully appreciate all that [Northam] has contributed to our Commonwealth," they are calling on him to resign:

Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a fellow Democrat, encouraged Northam to "listen to the people and communities he has hurt, and carefully consider what comes next:"

"This photo is shocking and deeply offensive, all the more so because of Virginia's long and painful history of racism and violence toward African Americans. The Governor must now listen to the people and communities he has hurt, and carefully consider what comes next."

Like Warner, Senator Tim Kaine did not explicitly call for Northam to resign; instead, he stressed the "pain" the photo has caused due to the history of racism in the U.S.:

“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.”

Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria, who represents Virginia's 2nd congressional district, also condemned the photo and called for Northam's resignation:

“We need leaders who will bring us together instead of driving us apart. While it was proper for Governor Northam to apologize, there is no excuse for this type of photograph then or now. Unfortunately, the existence of this photograph does not bring us together. I ask Governor Northam to resign. This isn’t about politics, this is about what is right and wrong.”

Acknowledging that Northam is "a personal friend," Congressman Bobby Scott, who represents Virginia's 3rd district, called the governor's past behavior "indefensible:"

“It is never easy to condemn a personal friend, but Governor Northam’s past behavior is indefensible. I know the Governor has dedicated his life to public service, and he has advanced policies to help African Americans and Virginians from all walks of life. I take him at his word that he is deeply sorry, and that he understands that his behavior was inappropriate and offensive. History will have to judge his life and public record, and this chapter will be a major stain on that record.The Governor must now make the right decision that is best for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Rep. Donald McEachin also released a statement about the controversy, calling for Northam to resign:

Delegate Stephen Heretick did the same, saying he has "respectfully concluded that Governor Northam has lost his ability to govern:"

"This evening I learned of the repulsive photograph which was recently discovered in the Medical School yearbook page of Governor Ralph Northam. Like many, I have grown to know and respect Governor Northam over his many years in public service. The photograph, reflecting the worst of our history, disturbs me as profoundly as it does all of Virginia tonight. With sadness and resolve, I have respectfully concluded that Governor Northam has lost his ability to govern. Tonight, Virginia must look forward to a new leader for our Commonwealth. That leader must have the ability to lead us forward with dignity. I respectfully call upon Governor Northam to resign, effective immediately, to enable us to carry on the critical work of the General Assembly and our State Government."

Despite mounting calls for his resignation, Northam said in a video statement Friday night that he plans to carry out the rest of his term:

The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP will hold a press conference at 12 p.m. Saturday to discuss the matter. The chapter is also calling for Northam's resignation.

Stay with News 3 for updates.

For full coverage on Gov. Northam's yearbook photo controversy, click here.