Virginia governor urged to resign over racist yearbook picture

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam admits he was one of two people in 1984 photo as calls for his resignation intensify.

A photo of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and another person in blackface, KKK uniform surfaced Friday. CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images
A photo of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and another person in blackface, KKK uniform surfaced Friday. CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Several presidential contenders and the head of the NAACP called on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to resign Friday after a photo from his medical school yearbook page surfaced showing two men, one in blackface and another in a KKK robe and hood.

Northam acknowledged in a statement Friday night that he was in the photo, but did not say which man was him and vowed to serve out the remaining three years of his term.

Julián Castro, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama, was the first 2020 presidential candidate to call for Northam to resign Friday.

“It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat,” Castro tweeted. “This behavior was racist and unconscionable. Governor Northam should resign.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who formally announced her campaign earlier this week, echoed Castro.

“Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in government,” Harris tweeted. “The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), another 2020 presidential contender, was asked about the Northam photos Friday night but did not join her colleagues in calling for the governor’s resignation, saying she hadn’t seen the photo.

Later, Gillibrand tweeted that she had seen the photo and believed Northam should resign.

“There aren’t two sets of rules for our friends and our foes: Right is right and wrong is wrong,” she wrote. “Americans deserve to be respected by their leaders, and racism cannot be excused in our government our anywhere else.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), another presidential candidate, weighed in Friday as well, saying in a tweet that the racist images were “deeply disturbing.”


“Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders — Republican and Democrat,” she wrote. “Northam must resign.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who officially declared his presidential candidacy on Friday, also called for the Virginia Democrat’s resignation over the racist images that “eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam’s ability to lead.”

The condemnations came just hours after a conservative website, Big League Politics first published a picture of the yearbook page, which included four photos of Northam, including a headshot, a picture of him in a cowboy hat and boots, and a third of him leaning against a convertible.


The fourth photo on the page is of two people, both holding canned beverages. One person is wearing a white Ku Klux Klan robe and a hood, while the other is in blackface, wearing a white hat, black jacket, white shirt with a bow tie and plaid pants.

The name of Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, and his medical school focus, pediatrics, are listed under the photo.

Image of the yearbook page via The Virginian-Pilot
Image of the yearbook page via The Virginian-Pilot

Northam expressed remorse late Friday for the picture, which he said no longer reflects who he is.

“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,” he said in a statement.

“This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service.”

He continued, “But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment. I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their governor.”


NAACP President Derrick Johnson also called for Northam to resign Friday, posting on Twitter that wearing blackface “in any manner is always racist and never okay.”

If Northam does resign he will be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who would become only the fourth African-American governor since the reconstruction era.



This story has been updated crediting Big League Politics, a conservative website, as the first media outlet to publish Northam’s yearbook page.