Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's Yearbook Page Shows Men In Blackface And KKK Robes


Democrats and Republicans are calling for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign after a photo from his past surfaced this afternoon. The Democratic governor's medical school yearbook page from 1984 shows a photo of two people, one in blackface and one in a KKK robe and hood. Northam admits he was in the photo and released this apology soon after the news broke.


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

SHAPIRO: For more, we're joined by NPR's Sarah McCammon, who is at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Hi, Sarah.


SHAPIRO: Just begin by telling us what else we know about the photo.

MCCAMMON: Well, we have confirmed, as many other media outlets have, that this is a real photo from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook in 1984. The page shows several sort of typical yearbook photos, and then it also shows a picture of someone in blackface and someone else in a KKK costume. This is on Northam's page in his yearbook, and he has acknowledged that he appeared in the picture, didn't say which of those people is him. And he's apologized for that.

SHAPIRO: And we heard a bit of that apology. What else can you tell us about his response?

MCCAMMON: Well, you know, he has not said he plans to resign. Let's be clear about that. In fact he said in that statement later on that - he talked about serving out the remainder of his term and expressed desire to work toward healing after this event and after this came forward. But a lot of other people have called for him to resign, and those calls this evening have been coming in kind of one after another, Ari, initially mostly from Republicans but also now from a lot of Democrats.

Just to tick through a few of them here in Virginia, the state GOP has called for Northam's resignation, as has the national Republican Governors Association. But we've seen similar calls from Kamala Harris, the Senate - California senator running for president, from the liberal group and from Planned Parenthood just a moment ago. All have called for him to resign as well as the NAACP.

And here in Virginia, we saw a statement from the Black Legislative Caucus (ph) at the Virginia statehouse, which is dominantly Democratic. They have not called for him to resign, but they expressed a sense of betrayal in the statement they put out - so a lot of very sharp, pointed words here for Northam. So far, though, he has said he wants to serve out his term.

SHAPIRO: Really striking how widely across the ideological spectrum the condemnation is so quickly. And this comes at a time when Ralph Northam was already struggling over comments he made about abortion earlier in the week. Tell us about that.

MCCAMMON: That's right. He was also already facing a lot of heat just in the past couple of days over a proposal in the Virginia legislature that he had expressed support for that would have removed a lot of restrictions on abortion including during the third trimester, later in an abortion. He talked about his experience as a physician talking to families in very difficult situations and said that in some of these difficult situations involving a pregnancy where there's a severe fetal deformity or a fetus is unable to survive outside the woman's body, he would support allowing doctors and patients to make those decisions together.

And that drew a huge backlash from the right - accusations of supporting infanticide, which he roundly denied. And here, you know, just in the wake of that big controversy that really got national attention, this photo emerges, and now we're seeing calls, again, from both sides of the aisle for Northam to resign because of this.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon at the campus of Eastern Virginia Medical School. Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.