Protesters gathered outside Virginia’s statehouse on Monday and called for Governor Ralph Northam to resign. Northam has rebuffed widespread calls for his resignation since a racist photo surfaced Friday in his 1984 medical school yearbook page. (Feb. 5)
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admitted Wednesday that he, too, once wore blackface in the 1980s.
Herring released the statement days after Gov. Ralph Northam said he wore blackface in the 1984 for a Michael Jackson dance contest. Leadership on both sides of the aisle have called for Northam’s resignation.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, in line to succeed Northam, has been accused of sexual misconduct that he has vehemently denied. Herring is next in line after Fairfax for the governorship.
Wednesday’s developments accelerated a controversy that has dragged on since the weekend and has put the Virginia leadership under an intense nationwide spotlight.
“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” Herring said. “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.
“This was a one-time occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct.”
Herring, who previously urged Northam to resign, said “honest conversation” would make it clear whether he can continue in his own job.
Herring said shame from the incident “has haunted me for decades.” But he also lists his efforts to “empower communities of color ” by working for equality in the state’s criminal justice and electoral systems and fighting for equal access to health care.
“I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation,” he said.
Northam has said he won’t resign, and on Tuesday he resumed governing, signing a $750 million Amazon incentive package and issuing a statement mourning the death of a state trooper.
Northam has been under siege since Friday, when a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page in 1984 was published by the conservative website Big League Politics. The photo depicted one person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe.
On Friday the governor apologized for being in photo, but on Saturday he said he was not pictured in the “offensive, racist photo.” Northam did admit to blackening his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume at a dance contest in the 1980s.
The Democrat has been under heavy pressure from both parties to bow out. State Sen. Richard Stuart, a close friend, said he talked to Northam on Tuesday and believes the governor wants to remain in office and “face this head-on.”
Members of both parties have acknowledged that, under state laws, removing Northam could be difficult. Northam has been essentially frozen out by fellow Democrats. Northam has remained out of the public eye since Saturday’s awkward press conference.
On Tuesday he was governing but made no media appearances.
Richard Homan, the president of Northam’s medical school, Eastern Virginia, said Tuesday that other yearbooks had a number of photos that were “shockingly abhorrent” and inappropriate, including as recently as 2013 when he shut the yearbook down. He apologized to the African-American community and reiterated that the school will investigate racial issues – and not only in the past, he said.
“We want to know what is happening, what we can do to make things better,” he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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