RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) — Governor Ralph Northam says he is not in a racist picture that appears on his page of the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook and has no plans to resign.
Northam addressed the public during a press conference outside the Executive Mansion on Saturday, contradicting a statement he released on Friday that said the photo was him and apologized.
Northam’s 1984 yearbook page shows a picture of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor.
After the picture went public Friday, Northam issued a statement saying he was “sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo.”
However, during Northam’s press conference on Saturday he said he had taken a closer look at the photos and believes neither of the individuals in the photo is him.
“I tell the truth. I’m telling the truth today. That was not my picture,” said Northam.
When asked why he initially took responsibility for the photo, Northam said, “I’m accepting responsibility that this photograph was on my page in the yearbook. I regret that. It is horrific. It made me sick when I saw it.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney have all released additional statements, standing their ground on their calls for Northam’s resignation.
Senator Mark Warner, Senater Tim Kaine and Congressman Bobby Scott released a joint statement on Saturday.
“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign. Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.”
Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax broke his silence on the situation, but does not say whether or not he believes Northam should resign.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in an official statement, “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 the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus and the state Senate Democratic Caucus all called on Northam to resign late Friday, along with several key progressive groups that have been some of the governor’s closest political allies.
The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics.
10 On Your Side obtained a copy of the 1984 EVMS yearbook and verified the photo in question.
An EVMS spokesperson declined to comment on the picture, but did say that in 1984, the yearbook was a student-run activity, implying there wasn’t administrative oversight.
EVMS President Richard Homan, MD called the photo “shockingly abhorrent,” in a statement he released on Saturday.
In a later statement, Homan said he would direct an external investigation into school’s yearbooks, the process in which they are published and their campus culture.
Northam says he had nothing to do with the preparation of the school’s yearbook and did not purchase one when it was finished. He did say he submitted the other three photos that were on the page.
Throughout the yearbook, said Northam, there are multiple photos of people in what appears to be blackface. He says none of which are photos of him.
The yearbook page also lists Northam’s undergraduate alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, where another yearbook photo features a nickname with racist connotations.
Northam addressed the VMI yearbook during Saturday’s press conference as well. He says there were two, older individuals at the school that called him by that nickname, but he wasn’t sure of their intent.
In his first apology, issued in a written statement, Northam called the costume he wore “clearly racist and offensive,” but he didn’t say which one he had worn.
He later issued a video statement saying he was “deeply sorry” but still committed to serving the “remainder of my term.”
“I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam said.
A small number of protesters stood outside the governor’s mansion Saturday to demand his resignation.
Northam’s departure would mean current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African-American to win statewide office in Virginia, would be the next governor. Northam’s term was set to end in 2022.
Black lawmakers said they met with Northam Friday evening, and said in a statement they appreciate his service.
“But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said.
State Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a close ally of Northam and longtime African-American lawmaker, said black leaders felt “mortally wounded” by the photo and that he has no option but to resign.
“He betrayed us,” she told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Others said there was no question he should step down. Among them: Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren; newly elected Democratic U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.
Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He’s a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
“It’s a matter of relationships and trust. That’s not something that you build overnight,” Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community. Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many GOP lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
Last week, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
Associated Press writer Ben Finley contributed to this report.