Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam prepares to address a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Jan. 31, 2019.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam prepares to address a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Jan. 31, 2019.

Calls are mounting for Virginia’s governor to step down from office after the emergence of a racist photo in which he appeared in his medical school yearbook more than 30 years ago.

Ralph Northam apologized Friday for the “racist and offensive” costume seen on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. In a video statement Northam said the photo does not reflect the person he is today. 

“I cannot change the decisions I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today,” he added. “But I accept responsibility for my past actions, and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust.”

The page features a photograph of a person in blackface and another in full Ku Klux Klan garb. The governor has indicated he is one of the people in the photograph but has not said which one.

The Congressional Black Caucus and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus have urged him to step down.

“Ralph Northam has had three decades to know better but only now does he acknowledge this racist act,” the Congressional Black Caucus posted on Twitter. “An apology now isn’t enough. He must resign.”

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus posted a statement on Twitter that said of Northam: “We fully appreciate all that he has contributed to our Commonwealth. But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as Governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”

“Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should nave no place in the halls of government,” presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris posted on Twitter in her statement urging Northam to resign. “The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”

Another presidential hopeful, Senator Corey Booker also took to Twitter, posting “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.”

Harris and Booker were joined by presidential hopefuls Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, who also want Northam to resign.

Not tolerated or excused

“There is no circumstance where this behavior should ever be tolerated or excused; and now more than ever we need leaders that demonstrate high character and unquestionable moral fortitude to lead us through these times of uncertainty,” the Fairfax County NAACP said in a statement. Fairfax County is in Virginia.

If Northam, a pediatric neurologist, does resign, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is African American, would assume the governor’s office.

News of Northam photos comes a week after Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in black face while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.

The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus perhaps explained best in its statement why the photo is resulting in calls for Northam’s resignation: “... what has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible, and offensive. ... The legacy of slavery, racism and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African Americans for over 400 years. These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins. Those who would excuse the pictures are just as culpable.”

Special Section