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By Dareh Gregorian
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized Friday for appearing in a racially offensive photo on his medical school yearbook page that featured men in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes.
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Northam, a Democrat, said in a statement. “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 added, “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. 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.”
The photo from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook ran alongside pictures of and personal information about Northam.
NBC verified the yearbook pictures with the school. NBC is not aware of the identities of both of the men in the picture in blackface or the Klan robes — although the governor’s statement confirms he is one or the other — but all the other photos on the page are clearly of Northam: one in a suit jacket, one in a cowboy hat where he is holding a beer, one sitting next to a Corvette.
Vincent Rhodes, chief communications officer for the school, said the production of the yearbook was a student activity, adding, “We don’t know when or where the picture was taken and we don’t know anything about its content.”
“Racism has no place in Virginia,” said Republican Party of Virginia chairman Jack Wilson in a statement before Northam apologized. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”
Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves said in a statement to the Associated Press that Northam should resign if the reports of the photos are accurate.
“I hope that this picture is inaccurate and that the Governor brings clarity to this issue. This has no place in Virginia,” Reeves said before Northan apologized.
Northam came under fire from Republicans earlier this week, who accused him of supporting infanticide because of comments he made about late-term abortions in which the infant is severely deformed or unable to survive after birth.
He was elected governor in 2017 in a hotly-contested race against Republican Ed Gillespie. Northam said he supported taking down Confederate monuments, a stance Gillespie blasted him for.
In his victory speech, Northam, an Army veteran and pediatric neurologist, said, “Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry.”
“It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences. And I’m here to tell you, the doctor is in!” he declared.
If he were to resign, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is black, would be first in line to replace him.
The yearbook photo was first reported by Big League Politics, a far-right website that often promotes conspiracy theories.