RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Days before Gov. Ralph Northam leaves office, the Democrat reportedly admitted to being “99 percent sure” of knowing the identity of the man seen in blackface in a now-infamous yearbook photo.
Northam told The Washington Post the man had “been talked to,” that his name is “very close to mine” alphabetically, and that he was “also in that medical school class.”
The photo also showed a person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe, who Northam told The Post he knows, but the person would not cooperate with investigators.
The new admission comes days before Northam hands over the keys to the executive mansion to Republican Glenn Youngkin. It is also a complete reversal from his initial response to the scandal nearly two years ago.
In February 2019, Northam said, “earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive. 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.”
The governor quickly did an about-face and said he was not in the 1984 yearbook photo at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. The governor also acknowledged wearing blackface decades ago for a Michael Jackson dance contest. It was reported at the time that Northam seemed as if he might moonwalk for reporters at a press conference before his wife intervened.
The now infamous “blackface scandal,” as critics widely labeled the controversy, prompted calls from state leaders across party lines for Northam’s resignation.
An investigation into the scandal conducted by McGuire Woods “could not conclusively” determine if the governor was in the yearbook image.
After his comments to The Post on Sunday, Jan. 9, Northam doubled down on his denial of being in the photo.
The governor told WFXR’s sister station, WRIC, on Tuesday, Jan. 11 that “I’m not in the picture…” and “I think more importantly than who was in the picture, it’s really about the work that has been done as a result of the picture and making Virginia a more welcome state.”
When asked again Tuesday for an explanation why Northam initially admitted to appearing in the photo, spokesperson Alena Yarmosky did not directly respond and referred sister station WRIC to the governor’s previous comments.
On page 46 of the McGuire Woods report, Northam was asked about the conflicting statements of being in the photo, then saying he was not.
Northam responded to an attorney, “I wanted to take responsibility for a picture being on my yearbook page… I said [to my staff] ‘what do you need for me to do and I’ll do it.’ That’s the mode I was in. there was an urgency to get the statement out. If I had to do over again I’d do it differently.”
The 2019 probe into the matter does not detail who is in the photo but instead outlines Northam’s statement that he was “positive” to not appearing in it and that he did not know who is in the photo, adding that to say so “would be speculative.”
Findings in the report also said, “we did hear from the 1984 yearbook staff that the yearbook compilation process was chaotic. As a result, some members of the yearbook staff believed it was possible that a photograph could have been misplaced. However, no one we spoke with identified an actual mistake in the 1984 yearbook – or any other yearbook – in which a photograph appeared on a student’s personal page that the student did not submit.”