Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam insists he was not either of the men in an offensive photo of one person in blackface and another wearing a KKK hood that showed up in his 1984 yearbook.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam denied on Saturday that he was one of the two individuals in a yearbook photograph showing one person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe.
Northam was sure, he said, because he’d remembered darkening his face on another occasion in his 20s.
During his Saturday news conference to address the growing controversy over the racist photograph, which was listed beneath his name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, Northam detailed using shoe polish to make his face darker during a dance contest where he dressed up as Michael Jackson.
“My belief that I did not wear that costume or attend that party stems in part from my clear memory of other mistakes that I made in the same period of my life,” Northam explained. “That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.”
Northam said looking back, he regretted “that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that” and added he spoke with a friend, a person of color named Seth, about his actions and why they were so hurtful.
He was asked specifically about this event and Northam detailed using polish to make his face darker and winning the contest.
“I had the shoes, I had a glove and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put under, or on my cheeks,” Northam said, using his fingers to show where he smeared the polish on his face. “The reason I used a very little bit is because, I don’t know if anybody has ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off.”
He went on to say that he won the dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, because of his moonwalking skills.
Later, a reporter asked him about the contest and whether he could still do the moonwalk. Northam looked around as though he might demonstrate, smiled and then was cut off by his wife who told him it was “inappropriate circumstances.”
Northam used the news conference to say he would not resign despite demands from a growing chorus of prominent Republicans and Democrats. He also rescinded an earlier apology where he acknowledged he was one of the two people in the 1984 photo, instead now claiming that he’d never seen the yearbook or that specific photo before it was publicized on Friday.
While making a denial that he noted many voters in Virginia may not believe, the admission that Northam had darkened his face in the past on a different occasion did not sit well with many.
Immediately after the news conference was over, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez issued a statement calling for Northam’s ousting.
“It’s time for Ralph Northam to step aside and let Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax serve Virginians as their next Governor,” he said in a statement.
Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton called on lawmakers in the state to remove him from office and said his “excuse” about dressing up as Michael Jackson showed his “mentality” toward the issue.
“I think he further damaged himself,” Sharpton said on MSNBC. “And since he loves Michael, he should go back to the mansion and play ‘Beat It’ and start packing.”
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