2:45 p.m.: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam offered a different explanation Saturday for the racially offensive photograph that appeared on his medical school yearbook in 1984:  It wasn’t him.

In a televised news conference from Virginia’s governor’s mansion at 2:30 p.m., Northam, a Democrat and pediatric neurologist, attempted to push back against an avalanche of calls for his resignation by saying he was not either of the people depicted in the photo -- one in blackface and the other in Ku Klux Klan garb -- that appeared on his medical school yearbook page and surfaced for the first time publicly Friday.

Northam also said repeatedly he has no recollection of even attending the party at which the photo was taken.

"It is definitely not me. I can tell by looking at it. I have had friends tell me it is not me," Northam said, explaining he has talked to medical school classmates who said the photo's appearance on the page could have been an error.

Northam, 59, said he understood that some might not believe his explanation but sought to bolster it by saying he remembers "vividly" another instance when he did dress in blackface. Northam said he "used a little bit of shoe polish" to darken his face when he dressed up as Michael Jackson for a dance contest in San Antonio, Texas.

Northam said it was his sharp memory of that episode -- which occurred in 1984, the same year the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook was published -- that allowed him to say confidently "that was not my picture."

But Northam said he later came to realize, through conversations with a friend, that attempting to darken one's face is hurtful and offensive.

"I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that," Northam said.

Northam said he recalled submitting three other photos for the page -- a formal portrait, one of him in front of a restored sports car and one of him in a cowboy hat -- but has no recollection of the other picture.

Still, Northam said he apologized for the photo Friday because he takes responsibility for what was on his yearbook page.

"It is disgusting, it is offensive, it is racist and it was my responsibility to prevent it from being published," Northam said.

But Northam said he does not have a copy of the yearbook and does not believe he ever saw his page before it was presented to him Friday.

"This is a horrific photo. It was on my page, with my name. My first impression was this couldn't be me," Northam said. "But there was so much hurt, that I reached out and apologized." 

"I want to assure everyone that is not my picture, that is not my person in that picture," Northam said at one point.

The press conference comes about 24 hours after a picture of Northam’s yearbook page first surfaced Friday afternoon on the conservative new website “Big League Politics.”

Northam apologized Friday night, first in a statement and then in a video, for appearing in what he called “a costume that was 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,” Northam said in his statement and video Friday.

11:35 a.m.: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who is so far resisting an avalanche of calls to resign from both local and high-profile Democrats, will speak from Richmond at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2.

Northam (D) apologized Friday night over appearing in a “racially offensive costume” in a photo that appeared on his medical school yearbook page. Northam attended and graduated from the Eastern Virginia Medical School. The yearbook was printed in 1984.

Following his apology, calls for Northam’s resignation came from Democrats and Republicans across Virginia and the U.S.

Joining those saying the governor should step down were former governor Terry McAuliffe, for whom Northam served as lieutenant governor for four years; the national NAACP; the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Democratic state Senate and House of Delegates’ caucuses; and numerous state and local elected officials.

But Northam, 59, has so far not complied with calls to resign, and, according to news reports, said this morning he is not sure he is one of the men pictured in the yearbook photograph. One of the men is wearing blackface, the other is dressed in a white Ku Klux Klan hood.

State Sen. Louise Lucas, D-18th, of Portsmouth, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday that Northam had called her about 15 minutes earlier to say “he doesn’t think that it’s him in the picture,” the paper reported Saturday.

Lucas reportedly told Northam his story is “a day late and a dollar short,” the Times-Dispatch reports.

Friday, Feb. 1, 11:45 p.m.:

UPDATED: The Democratic House and Senate caucuses and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe have all released statements tonight calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign.

The statements, released in a quick succession at about 11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, express regret and heavy hearts but nonetheless reach the same conclusion: Northam should resign over the a 1984 medical school yearbook photograph in which he appears in either blackface or a Ku Klux Klan hood.

In a statement release on Facebook tonight, state Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th, said Northam's appearance in the photo is "hurtful and wrong."

Virginia "needs a leader who can help us heal and bring us together," McPike said. 

"It is tough to reconcile what Virginia has been through recently -- from the events in Charlottesville to Corey Stewart dressing in costume under the confederate flag," McPike wrote on Facebook Friday night, referring to Stewart's 2017 appearance at a Confederate ball. "I have denounced them both. I do not think Governor Northam has any of this in his heart anymore and know him to be honorable."

McPike went on to say Northam "has been committed to public service for many years and has done good things for the Commonwealth" but added: "I believe stepping down at this time is the honorable thing to do."

The state Senate Democratic Caucus issued a statement saying they were "shocked, saddened and offended" by the photograph and noted the picture reflects Virginia's "complicated racial history."

"The Ralph Northam we know is a pediatric neurologist, a dedicated public servant and a committed husband and father," the statement continued. "Nevertheless, it is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked him to step down."

Northam's apology

In a statement issued at about 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, Northam (D) said he is “deeply sorry” for appearing in “a costume that was clearly racist and offensive" in a photo from his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

The photo showed two men standing side by side, one in blackface and plaid pants, the other in a white Ku Klux Klan hood. Without specifying which costume he wore, Northam admitted he was one of the men pictured on the page.

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Northam’s statement said. “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 went on to say the behavior depicted in the photo is not “in keeping” with who he is today “and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service.”

“But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment,” Northam added.

More than an hour after the statement was released, Northam shared a video via Twitter in which he said he is committed "to serving out the remainder" of his term.

But despite Northam's statement and video, a growing number of Democratic leaders joined the Virginia GOP and some local Republican elected officials in calling for Northam to resign.

By 10 p.m, they included McAuliffe as well as Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, former secretary of housing and urban development; and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California. The NAACP had also called for Northam's resignation.

Dumfries Mayor Derrick Wood was the first local Democratic elected official to say Northam should step down. 

"As mayor, I am disappointed to see this picture of the Governor of Virginia surface from the 80s, when as a nation we were putting pressure on South Africa for the apartheid government," Wood wrote.

"He knew it was wrong then and it is wrong today. If we saw Trump in blackface or a KKK mask there would be no question we would ask him to step down," Wood continued.

In an interview Friday night, Wood said the decision was "a no brainer" given the current political climate, including the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, the recent reappearance of Ku Klux Klan recruitment flyers and other signs of racist animus. 

"We might like him how he is now," Wood said of Northam. "But once you see that picture of the blackface and the klan hood, you can't unsee what you just saw."

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement saying they'd met with the governor Friday night and "fully appreciate all that he has contributed to our commonwealth."

"But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor," the VLBC statement said. "It is time for him to resign so that Virginia can begin the process of healing."

Reaction from GOP swift, slower from Democrats

Wood's statement followed others posted on social media Friday night by some GOP elected officials and both Democratic and Republican candidates for state and local offices in the upcoming November elections. 

Among local Democratic candidates calling for Northam's resignation Friday were Tristan Shields, who is vying for the 18th District state delegate's seat, and Josh King, a candidate for Prince William County Sheriff. Both are challenging Republican incumbents.

Meanwhile, the Virginia GOP and some Republican elected officials were among the first to call for Northam to step down.

“Governor Northam needs to clarify if this is indeed a photo of him. If this is true, he needs to resign,” state Sen. Richard Black, R-13th, said in a tweet late Friday afternoon. Black is one of five state senators who represent parts of Prince William County.

U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, and U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, also posted a critical tweets Friday but did not explicitly call on Northam to resign.

“As a Virginian & Rep. of Charlottesville, @GovernorVA yearbook photos hit more than a nerve,” Riggleman said.

“This Virginian demands an explanation. Now. Issues of racial discrimination cannot be taken lightly & this type of behavior is dangerous & unacceptable in any form.”

D.J. Jordan, a Republican candidate vying to challenge Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, in November, called Northam's yearbook page "reprehensible" and said it showed a "blatant disrespect" for African-Americans and their history.

Cozy Bailey, president of the Prince William County NAACP, said he was surprised by news of the governor’s yearbook and said it does not reflect the Northam he knows “up close and personal.”

“Whatever is being depicted there is so out of character,” Bailey said of the news reports, calling Northam a “great friend of the NAACP.”

Bailey, in an interview before Northam issued his statement, said he had “no rush to judgment” about the photo but acknowledged it was “shocking.”

“Divorcing it from the governor for a moment, the year was 1984 and this was a picture taken in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Bailey said. “It kind of fuels our feeling of rejection of these kinds of images.”

Bailey said he wasn’t inclined to feel “hurt” by such images but said he could not help but wonder what it was all about.

“This is Ralph Northam, and I feel like I know Ralph Northam,” Bailey said. “I’m curious to know what is going on here.”

This is a developing story. Stay with PrinceWilliamTimes.com and Fauquier.com for updates.

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(1) comment

Kevin Raymond

If Governor Northam made a mistake, it was his apology before all the facts were in. If he now denies not being in the pictures, it would seem appropriate to hear what the Eastern Medical Center has to say about their quality review of its yearbooks. Governor Northam has served a lifetime of taking care of the children under his care and an outstanding legislative background. This year, he has led the initiative to clean up I-95 at Occoquan, raise teacher salaries,and address prison reforms. He needed to give himself a second chance when this issue started, and now Virgiinia citizens give him a second chance to get to the bottom of the problem..

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