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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

US governor refuses to quit over racist yearbook photo

Ralph Northam is facing calls to resign after pictures surfaced showing a man he claims isn't him psoing as a Ku Klux Klan member

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, with his wife, Pam, speaks during a news conference in Richmond. AP 
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, with his wife, Pam, speaks during a news conference in Richmond. AP 

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said he won’t resign despite a national outcry over a racist photo from a 1984 medical school yearbook that triggered fellow Democrats to call for him to step down.

Mr Northam made the announcement during a televised press conference at the state Executive Mansion in Richmond to address what he earlier called a “clearly racist and offensive” photograph on his medical school yearbook page from 1984 that surfaced on Friday.

“I am not the person in the photo that caused a stir yesterday,” Mr Northam said. “That’s not me in that photo.”

The denial failed to silence calls for the governor to quit.

Democrats – including multiple 2020 presidential candidates, his home state’s Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former vice president Joe Biden – all earlier called on Mr Northam to resign, as did many Republicans. Senators Mark R Warner and Tim Kaine, both former governors of Virginia, and Congressman Bobby Scott added to the calls for Mr Northam to step down after watching his press conference. US President Donald Trump also weighed in on the debate.

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The photograph, one of four on a page from Mr Northam’s yearbook at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, was published on Friday by conservative website Big League Politics. It shows a person wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Other photos on the page are of a young Mr Northam in a cowboy hat, one of him seated before a convertible, and a formal head shot.

Mr Northam, standing with his wife Pam, said he believed it was possible some photographs in the yearbook had been switched. He said he had never bought or looked at the yearbook before Friday, was in the military during school and was doing rotations, so didn’t participate in the publication.

Mr Northam said he recalled – and regretted – using shoe polish to darken his face to dress up as pop star Michael Jackson in 1984 for a dance contest in San Antonio, Texas. The “memory of that is so vivid”, he said, that he would have remembered having been in blackface at a party at the medical school. He said he has never worn a KKK uniform.

“My personal history mirrors that of this Commonwealth,” he said. “In the place and time where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognise as abhorrent today were commonplace.”

Updated: February 3, 2019 10:50 AM

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