Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said on Saturday that he did not appear in a racist photo that prompted widespread calls for his resignation.
The photo, from an Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook page, shows one person in blackface standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan-style robe and hood. The photo, first published by conservative blog Big League Politics on Friday, went viral and prompted numerous calls for Northam’s resignation from Republicans and Democrats.
“In the hours since I made my statement yesterday, I reflected with my family and classmates from the time and affirmed my conclusion that I am not the person in that photo,” Northam said during a press conference on Saturday. “I am not either of the people in that photo.”
He also resisted calls to resign that came from across party lines. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris — both African-American candidates for president in 2020 — were among the several members of Congress who called on Northam to quit.
“If I were to listen to the voices calling on me to resign my office today, I could spare myself of the difficult task that lies ahead,” Northam said. “I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from the past.”
During the press conference, Northam admitted to using shoe polish to darken his skin during a 1984 San Antonio talent contest in which he says he imitated Michael Jackson. Northam maintained that the incident was different in severity than the yearbook photo, which he called “offensive, racist, and despicable.” Northam suggested the photo could have been placed on his page of the yearbook by accident and said that numerous photos were placed on incorrect pages.
He excused the Michael Jackson incident, recalling a conversation he had with a black staffer where he says he apologized for his previous actions.
In phone calls on Saturday morning, Northam told state Democrats he could not remember the image and planned to say he did not think he wore either costume, according to a New York Times source identified as a Virginia Democrat.
Previously, Northam had admitted to being in the photo. He apologized late-Friday in a video posted on Twitter for “behavior in my past that falls far short of the standard you set for me.”
“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,” he said.
According to the Times, Northam considered using facial recognition software to prove that neither person in the photo was him.