Gov. Northam Says He Was Not in Photograph


By Linda Cicoira

“I am not in that photograph,” Gov. Ralph Northam said Saturday at a press conference. “It was horrific. The fact that it was on my page, it was unacceptable. Yesterday, I took responsibility for the content that appeared on my page.”

That was the reason Northam gave for apologizing about a photograph that appeared on the bottom half of a page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook that depicted two people — one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

Northam said while he submitted the other photographs that appeared on the page, he was not involved in preparing the yearbook and did not buy a copy, He was in rotation in the military while in medical school and was not in Virginia all the time the yearbook was issued.

He said Friday was the first time he had seen the photograph. “I did not wear that costume or attend that party.”

“It is disgusting, racist and (was) my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published,” Northam continued. He also admitted to being in a dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, that year. “I dressed up in a Michael Jackson costume … I had the shoes, a glove and a little bit of shoe polish (on the sides of his face). …  It was a dance contest. I had always liked Michael Jackson. … I had learned to do the moonwalk. … I did not realize at the time that it was as offensive as I’ve learned … and I apologize for that” he said. 

When a reporter asked Northam if he could still do the moonwalk – in a way that suggested the governor should dance for those at the press conference – Northam echoed his wife’s sentiment that he could do it “In appropriate circumstances.”

Despite calls for his resignation, Northam said he would continue to serve. “All I can do is what I’ve always done, is to be honest … I have prayed about this and I will continue to pray.” The pediatric neurologist said as a physician, he has taken care of thousands of people. “I treat everyone the same way. No one has ever thought or accused me of being racist. … No way I have ever been in the KKK uniform,” he later added.

Northam said he talked to his family, friends, and other students from that time to figure out how the picture would have been put on his page and believes it was a mistake and that other mistakes were made in the publication. He plans to learn more about the photo and possibly use facial recognition on it.

A reporter wondered aloud why Northam had to check with the others to be sure it was not he in the picture. While another asked why the discussions didn’t take place before he announced, “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.”

Northam said he felt he needed to rush with an apology for any hurt the photo caused. “All I can do is what I’ve always done, is to be honest.” Regarding resigning, he said, “If we get to the point that we are not efficient … then we will revisit this.”

Northam said Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is next in line for the governor’s seat, has been very supportive.

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