Northam Donor Knew About Racist Yearbook Picture, Kept It Secret

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page

A law firm investigating a racist picture of a man in blackface standing next to someone in Ku Klux Klan clothing on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook page says it's unable to determine whether the governor is in the picture.

Working on behalf of EVMS, McGuireWoods investigators said they couldn't "conclusively determine" the identities of either person in the 35-year-old photo - leaving all interested parties exactly where they were when the scandal first broke almost four months ago.

The 36-page report found no one "with first-hand knowledge of an actual mistake on any page, including any personal page, within the 1984 yearbook" and no evidence that the photo was placed in error, according to the report.

Virginia politics was turned upside down in a matter of hours in early February after a conservative website posted a picture of Northam's medical school yearbook page.

In a weird turn of events, a reporter asked Northam if he could still moonwalk like Michael Jackson, and Northam seemed ready to oblige before his wife stepped in and reminded him that these were "inappropriate circumstances". He later changed his story, saying he did not believe he was pictured, but had performed in blackface to impersonate the singer Michael Jackson at about that time.

"Its publication was particularly hurtful to African-American community and our academic community", Homan said, apologizing for the photo.

The report said that both presidents of the university had "decided that the school should not take steps to publicly announce the Photograph or to call Governor Northam's attention to it".

Northam was interviewed twice, on March 27 and May 8, and was described as being cooperative. He resisted bipartisan calls for his resignation and has remained governor.

The pressure to step down significantly lessened after scandal enveloped his potential successors, both Democrats. After Northam faced those calls to resign, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax faced calls to resign for accusations of sexual misconduct. The second in line for the governorship - Attorney General Mark Herring - then revealed that he, too, appeared in blackface when he was younger.

"The best we can conclude is that he erred on the side of caution initially and immediately regretted not having denied", said attorney Richard Cullen, who led the investigation.

Northam's chief of staff, Clark Mercer, told investigators the governor was "in a state of shock" when the photo surfaced. And other politicians around the South soon had their own explaining to do over yearbook images taken long ago.

"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", Northam said at the time.

The three interlocking scandals briefly raised the possibility that Virginia's top three Democrats would lose their jobs and the Republican House speaker would become governor. His political opponents still use the incident against him.

They opted not to tell Northam or go public, fearing they would be accused of playing politics, according to the report.

Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia.

"I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook", the Governor said.

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