Virginia governor denies appearing in racist photo

Ralph Northam resisting calls for him to resign after initially apologising for image

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam had confirmed he appeared in a racist yearbook photo and said he is ‘deeply sorry', before reassessing his memory and denying it was him. Video: Reuters

 

Virginia governor Ralph Northam on Saturday resisted mounting pressure from his Democratic party that he resign, denying that he appeared in a racist yearbook photo while admitting he once wore blackface in a dance contest.

Northam, who took office a year ago, said he would stay in his job. “As long as I feel that I can lead, I will continue to do that,” he said.

Northam had apologised on Friday, saying he was one of the people shown in the photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook, which depicted one person in blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

But on Saturday he said he looked at the photo more carefully and is sure it was not him. In a news conference alongside his wife, Northam said he had made other mistakes, including dressing up in blackface to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest around the same time.

“I actually won the contest because I had learned to do the moonwalk,” Northam said, referring to a dance move made famous in part by famed American singer Michael Jackson.

Northam apologised for his past actions and vowed to work to earn forgiveness.

“I am simply asking for the opportunity to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was is not the man I am today,” Northam said.

A handout image shows what appears to be the 1984 yearbook page of Ralph Northam, now the governor of Virginia, showing a person dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another wearing blackface. Photograph: New York Times
A handout image shows what appears to be the 1984 yearbook page of Ralph Northam, now the governor of Virginia, showing a person dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another wearing blackface. Photograph: New York Times

Pressure to resign

Pressure on him from within his party is growing.

“Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately,” former vice-president Joe Biden, a Democrat weighing a 2020 presidential run, said on Twitter.

Protesters gathered in front the his office in Richmond, Virginia, waving signs demanding he step down.

The head of Mr Northam’s party in the state also called on him to quit.

Other prominent Democrats – including 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Julian Castro – have been calling on Mr Northam to resign since Friday.

Former Democratic governor L Douglas Wilder said on Saturday Mr Northam should be criticised for the photos but stopped short of calling for his resignation.

“The choice of his continuing in office is his to make,” Mr Wilder said on Twitter.

Mr Northam, a 59-year-old paediatric neurologist and Army veteran, graduated from Norfolk medical school in 1984.

The Virginia-Pilot, which published the photo on Friday, said on its website it obtained a copy of the photo from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library. – Reuters