Governor Ralph Northam has walked back an admission that he appeared in a racist costume in the 1980s. Top figures in his Democratic party have called on him to step down.
Virginia's embattled Governor Ralph Northam on Saturday dismissed suggestions that he would resign and changed his story about appearing in a racist photo in his medical school yearbook. The Democratic governor has been caught up in controversy after a website published the 1984 yearbook page, which features one white man in blackface and another dressed up as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
"In the hours since I made my statement yesterday, I reflected with my family and classmates from the time and affirmed my conclusion that I am not the person in that photo," Northam said, one day after admitting to being in the photo but not specifying which individual he was.
"Many actions that we rightfully recognize as abhorrent today were commonplace in the past," Northam said, explaining that he was unsurprised that kind of content made its way into the yearbook.
He added that he did not, however, know why it was included on his page.
"I had nothing to do with the preparation of the yearbook, nor did I buy one. And so this was the first time — yesterday evening was the first time I saw this photo. It was shocking and it was horrific."
He did admit, however, that he once appeared in blackface when he rubbed shoe polish on his face as part of an impersonation of Michael Jackson for a dance contest, also in 1984.
'Eroded all confidence'
When the image first appeared on Friday, Northam initially made a statement apologizing for appearing "in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive… 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 has faced multiple calls to resign, including from the Virginia Branch of the Democratic Party, as well as from African American presidential hopefuls Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
"These images arouse centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence and they've eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam's ability to lead. We should expect more from our elected officials. He should resign," Booker wrote on Twitter.
Other well-known Democrats to call for his resignation included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Former Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
However, on Saturday one of Northam's African American classmates at Eastern Virginia Medical School, Walt Broadnax, defended the governor, saying he believed Northam that there had been a mistake.
Broadnax said that students had submitted photos for someone else to lay out. He said he believed Northam wasn't in that photo and that he didn't think the governor was a racist. He said the school wouldn't have tolerated anyone attending a party in blackface.
es/bw (AP, AFP)