RICHMOND, Va.: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam apologized on Friday for a photograph on his 1984 medical school yearbook page showing him and another person in racist garb at a party, but said he would serve out his term even as pressure piled on from fellow Democrats for him to step down.
In a statement from his office, Northam indicated he was one of the people shown in the photo, which depicted one person in blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. He did not identify which one was him. His spokeswoman did not respond to requests for further comment.
“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 in his statement.
In a video later posted on Twitter, Northam, who took office only a year ago, said: “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 and living up to the expectations you set for me when you elected me to serve.”
Among those calling for him to resign immediately were two recently announced Democratic candidates for president, Senator Kamala Harris and Julian Castro.
The Virginia-Pilot on its website said it obtained a copy of the photo from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library.
The NAACP, a leading civil rights organization, called for Northam to resign, while Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus condemned Northam in a stinging statement but stopped short of saying he should step down.
“We are still processing what we have seen about the Governor but unequivocally say that what has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible, and offensive,” the caucus said. “We feel complete betrayal.”
Virginia’s two US senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, criticized Northam but also didn’t call for his resignation, saying that he should reflect on how to move forward.
Among those who did call on Northam to step down, Harris, a first-term senator who is the daughter of a black father from Jamaica and an Indian mother, said on Twitter: “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government.”
Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and the grandson of a Mexican immigrant, on Twitter said Northam’s “behavior was racist and unconscionable.”
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, graduated from Norfolk medical school in 1984 and did his undergraduate work at Virginia Military Institute.
Northam, 59 and an Army veteran, was elected Virginia governor in 2017 after spending the previous decade in Virginia’s state legislature as a senator.
The origins of blackface date back to 19th century minstrel shows, when white actors covered themselves in black grease paint that caricatured the singing and dancing of slaves.
An entry from Northam’s 1981 yearbook for the Virginia Military Institute added to the outcry over racist associations. An archive page of the yearbook, seen on the nonprofit archive.org., shows Northam’s photo and bio on a page with the nickname “Coonman.” The word “Coon” has racist connotations.