Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Saturday reversed a Friday admission that he was one of two people on his yearbook page dressed in blackface and a KKK hood.
Northam claimed that after reflection he does “not believe” he was in the photo and further claimed he had never seen the photo from his page before Friday. He did admit that he had once darkened his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance. Northam delivered a statement in a Saturday press conference at the Executive Mansion after two Friday statements on the photo from his 1984 yearbook page.
“Yesterday, I took responsibility for content that appeared on my page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook that was clearly racist and offensive,” Northam began his statement. “I am not and will not excuse the content of the photo. It was offensive, racist, and despicable.”
Northam recalled his staff showing him the photo on Friday and claimed this was the first time he had seen the photo on his page of the yearbook. He stated that he did not purchase that yearbook.
“I was unaware of what was on my page” in the yearbook, Northam claimed. “When I was confronted with the images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page, but I believe then and now that I am not either of the people in that photo.”
“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing the content on a yearbook page that belongs to me,” said Northam. “It is disgusting, it is offensive, it is racist, and it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.”
“I recognize many people will find this difficult to believe. The photo appears with others I submitted on a page with my name on it,” Northam admitted. “Even in my own statement yesterday I conceded that based on the evidence presented to me at the time. The most likely explanation that it was indeed me in the photo.”
“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 claimed. “While I did not appear in the photo, I am not surprised by its appearance in the EVMS yearbook in the place and time where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognize as abhorrent today, were commonplace.”
“My belief that I did not wear that costume or attend that party stems in part from my clear memory of other mistakes I make in this same period of my life,” Northam relented. “That same year I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that. It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid, that I truly did not believe that I am in the picture in my yearbook. You remember these things.”
Northam said when he met his wife he began to understand history better and took the opportunity to change and grow. He said he is not the same person now as he was in his past and has made progress is how he approaches these issues.
“Today I am not ready to ask Virginians to grant me their forgiveness for my past actions. I also do not fully expect that they will immediately believe my account of these events,” said Northam. “Right now I am simply asking for the opportunity to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was is not the man I am today. I am asking for the opportunity to earn your forgiveness.”
“If I were to listen to the voices calling on me to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” said Northam.
He went on:
I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile. I took an oath to uphold this office and serve the people of this commonwealth to the best of my ability. As long as I believe I can effectively fulfill that task, I intend to continue to doing the business of Virginia. I believe this moment can be the first small step to open a discussion about these difficult issues and how the contribute to the greater racism and discrimination that defines so much of our history. This very house stands as a monument to the dark and complicated history of this commonwealth. These walls are adorned with adorned with the portraits of men and women who owned slaves, actively oppressed people of color, as well as men and women who stood tall and advanced the causes of equality and racial justice in the commonwealth and this country. In that discussion it will not be my role to speak to Virginians about these issues. My responsibility is to listen, to learn, and to continue to grow as a man and as a leader. I am ready for an honest conversation about racial injustice and the need for real reconciliation, real justice, and real equality. I believe the agenda this administration is pursuing clearly demonstrates the progress I and our commonwealth have made since the darkest chapters of our history. I promise to fight for Virginia that works better for all people and our commitment to economic justice, access to healthcare, criminal justice reform, educational equity, and a clean environment reflect those priorities.
As this conversation moves forward. I want to hear from Virginians from every walk of life about how we can fight even harder to build the Virginia that they deserve. Before I take questions I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the many people who have been hurt by this episode and mistakes that I have made in the past. I am ready to earn your forgiveness and I am ready to begin today.
Northam later adamantly told reporters that he was not the man in the KKK hood in the photo and said unequivocally that he has never worn a KKK hood.