A photograph from Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in a 1984 medical school yearbook shows two people — one in blackface, the other in a Ku Klux Klan costume.
The governor, in apologizing for the picture a few hours after its release, confirmed he was one of the people in it. He did not specify which.
The Virginian-Pilot published the photo and an accompanying story on Friday. The same photo had already been appearing in far-right media outlets — it appears Patrick Howley of Big League Politics had it first — after a recent controversy over Northam’s comments about the state’s abortion laws. Virginian-Pilot reporters obtained a copy of the yearbook photo from Eastern Virginia Medical School, and the Washington Post soon reported on the same picture.
The picture appears on Northam’s page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, under his name. The other photographs on the same page are of Northam.
Neither publication had been able to confirm whether Northam, elected governor in 2017, was in the blackface-KKK picture (and if he was, which costume he was wearing). Here is how the Virginian-Pilot described the picture’s subjects:
However, Northam’s office released a statement from the governor apologizing for the photograph and confirming he is one of the people pictured:
The revelation of the yearbook picture comes as amid a controversy about Northam’s comments about a proposed Virginia law to relax abortion restrictions, which spurred backlash from the right and anti-abortion groups. Vox’s Anna North covered the controversy and Northam’s remarks, which his opponents claimed amounted to a tacit endorsement of infanticide:
Democratic leaders in the Virginia Legislature quickly defended Northam. Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw told the Post that while the photo was “in very poor taste,” Northam’s life “has been about exactly the opposite… it’s been a life of helping people and many times for free.” The Virginia Republican Party, meanwhile, said Northam should resign if he was the person in the photograph.
Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, was just the second African American to be elected to statewide office in the state. Fairfax recently drew national attention for his refusal to participate in the Virginia Senate’s tribute to Confederate general Robert E. Lee.