Virginia governor Ralph Northam, despite his party calling for his resignation, said that he will not step down Saturday and denied being photographed in blackface or in Ku Klux Klan robes in the photo that appeared in his medical school yearbook.
Northam, a Democrat, apologized for the photos on Friday, explicitly acknowledging his involvement. However, a day later during an interview at the governor's mansion, he retracted his admission. “It was definitely not me,” Northam said. “I can tell by looking at it.” When asked why he had initially expressed regret for appearing in the photograph he said he wanted to “take credit for recognizing that this was a horrific photo that was on my page with my name on it.”
The image was published in the governor's medical school yearbook page from 1984. On the left side of the spread, Northam appears in a collage of photos; his headshot, him in a cowboy outfit and one of him leaning against a convertible. However, on the right, there's a black and white photo of two men, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan uniform, staring straight into the camera. Although there is no caption naming the two men in the image, Northam's interests as well as the quote, “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world, so I think I’ll have another beer," appear underneath.
Following the release of the photos on Friday, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia House and Senate Democrats and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, all called for Northam to resign. However, the governor explained that he has no definite plans of doing so. During the attempt to backtrack on his initial apology, Northam admitted to dressing up as Michael Jackson and blackening his face using shoe polish the year of his graduation. "I had always liked Michael Jackson. I actually won the contest because I won the contest because I had learned to do the moonwalk," he said.
Although he acknowledged that his Michael Jackson costume was wrong, he differentiated it from appearing in KKK robes. Northam said that he has changed in the decades since the photo was published in the yearbook. “The person I was is not the man I am today,” the governor said. “I ask for the opportunity to ask for your forgiveness.”
Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, echoed the Virginia legislature's calls for Northam's resignation. The governor did not indicate that he plans on stepping down, but rather explained that he would "revisit" the decision “if we get to the point where we’re not effective, we’re not efficient.”