Virginia AG Mark Herring Admits Wearing Blackface in College

Mark Herring, Ralph Northam, and Justin Fairfax collage
Alex Wong, Alex Edelman/Getty, Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) revealed to black lawmakers in an emergency meeting Wednesday morning that he wore blackface at a college party in 1980.

Herring issued a statement saying he wore brown makeup and a wig in 1980 to look like a black rapper during a party as a 19 -year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

The revelation further roils the top levels of Virginia government. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) are already facing controversies, and Herring would be next in line to be governor after those two men.

Herring said he and two friends dressed up to look like rappers they listened to, including Kurtis Blow.

“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,” he said.

“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.”

Herring, who plans to run for governor in 2021, is among those who have urged Northam to resign as governor after the discovery of a photo of someone in blackface on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. The photo that appeared in Northam’s half-page profile shows someone in blackface standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Northam faces a tsunami of resignation calls from leading Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Democrat National Committee chair Tom Perez, along with presidential contenders Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together,” Harris wrote in a statement shared to Twitter. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another high-profile Democrat running for president, said the governor had arisen “centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence” that “eroded” his ability to lead.

“We should expect more from our elected officials. He should resign,” he concluded.

Last Friday evening, Northam took responsibility for the photo featured on his yearbook page, yet backtracked the following day, claiming he no longer believed he was either of the two men pictured.

“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 said in a surreal Saturday press conference.  “I am not and will not excuse the content of the photo. It was offensive, racist, and despicable.

“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,” he continued. “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.”

During the presser, he acknowledged he once used shoe polish to blacken his face to look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in Texas in 1984.

Meanwhile, Fairfax, in line to be governor if Northam were to resign, has been accused of sexual misconduct, which he denies. The alleged incident purportedly occurred during the 2004 Democrat National Convention. Breitbart News has not reported details of the allegation because they have not been corroborated. In a statement Monday, Fairfax denied the allegation, claiming that he “has never assaulted anyone – ever – in any way, shape or form.”

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has an outstanding and well-earned reputation for treating people with dignity and respect,” the statement reads. “This is part of the sad and dark politics that the Lt. Governor has dedicated himself to helping Virginia and the nation rise above,” the statement continued.

Fairfax also warned he would take “appropriate legal action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation.”

According to the Associated Press, Fairfax’s accused has retained Washington, D.C., law firm Katz Marshall & Banks and is consulting with the firm about next steps, citing a person close to the legal team who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. One of the firm’s founding partners, Debra Katz, represented Ford, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh denied the allegation and later was confirmed to the court.

On Monday, Fairfax hinted that Northam could have been responsible for the allegation’s reemergence to prevent his own ouster. “Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?” he replied when asked whether he suspects Northam was behind it.

Asked if Herring should resign, Democrat state Delegate Delores McQuinn, an African-American, did not answer directly. “We are going to govern — that’s what our constituents want us to do,” she said. In condemning the photo from Northam’s yearbook, Herring said last Friday: “The photo, the conduct it captures, and the racist imagery invoked are all indefensible. The photo would be profoundly offensive in any circumstances, but it is also shocking and deeply disappointing to know that it pictures Governor Northam.” He called for Northam to step down the next day, saying “it is no longer possible” for him to lead the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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