Gov. Ralph Northam

Gov. Ralph Northam (D)

The mystery of whether Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was in the racist yearbook photo that nearly destroyed his career remains unsolved.

A months-long investigation ordered up by Eastern Virginia Medical School failed to determine whether Northam is in the picture published in 1984 of a man in blackface standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Investigators with a law firm hired by the school said Wednesday they couldn’t conclusively establish the identities of either person in the 35-year-old photo that was on Northam’s yearbook page alongside pictures of him.

Northam yearbook

This page from the 1984 yearbook at Eastern Virginia Medical School shows three pictures of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and another photo of two people, one wearing blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan uniform. Northam at first apologized for the being in the racist photo, but later said he is convinced he isn't in the photo.

They also said they couldn’t determine how the photo ended up on Northam’s page but found no evidence it was put there by mistake or as a prank.

When the picture came to light in February, the Democrat initially acknowledged he was in it and apologized without saying which costume he was in, then reversed course the next day, saying he was not in the photo. But he acknowledged he once wore blackface decades ago to look like Michael Jackson for a dance contest.

“No individual that we interviewed has told us from personal knowledge that the governor is in the photograph, and no individual with knowledge has come forward to us to report that the governor is in the photograph,” said law firm McGuireWoods said.

In a statement Wednesday, Northam, a 59-year-old pediatric neurologist who went into politics late in life, repeated that he is not in the photo and apologized again to the people of Virginia, admitting his handling of the episode “deepened pain and confusion.”

The findings are unlikely to have a major effect on state politics or Northam, who managed to survive the furor and has been trying mightily since then to make amends with black leaders. They have shown a willingness to let it go.

Del. Lamont Bagby, chairman of the Virginia Legislature’s black caucus, said the inconclusive report “doesn’t change a thing as it relates to the challenges that we have to do,” adding: “We’ve got 400 years of stuff to clean up.”

Virginia politics was turned upside down in a matter of hours last winter after a conservative website posted the picture. Black lawmakers and other key Democratic groups and top allies immediately called on the governor to resign.

Investigators said Northam did not believe he was in the photo when he first saw it but did not want to issue an immediate denial in case someone contradicted him.

“The best we can conclude is that he erred on the side of caution initially and immediately regretted not having denied,” said attorney Richard Cullen, who led the investigation.

Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, told investigators that the governor was “in a state of shock” when the photo surfaced.

During the uproar, Northam defied calls to resign and said he wanted to focus his remaining three years in office on addressing racial inequities.

The pressure to step down lessened significantly after his two potential successors, both Democrats, became enveloped in scandal themselves. Two women publicly accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, which he denied. And just days after calling on Northam to resign, Attorney General Mark Herring announced he, too, had worn blackface in the 1980s when he was in college.

Both Fairfax and Herring also rejected calls to resign. And other politicians around the South soon had their own explaining to do over yearbook images taken long ago.

The three interlocking scandals briefly raised the possibility that Virginia’s top three Democrats would lose their jobs and the Republican House speaker would become governor.

While Northam was all but invisible in February and much of March, he is making routine public appearances again. And he has won praise from black lawmakers and others for such moves as ending the suspension of driver’s licenses for motorists with unpaid fines, and a review into how schools teach the nation’s racial history.

Opponents still use the incident against him. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert recently accused Northam of choosing to “repair his own racist legacy” rather than protect victims of domestic abuse after the governor vetoed a bill requiring a mandatory jail term for repeat offenders.


Read reaction to Wednesday's news about Gov. Northam's yearbook investigation.

(38) comments


The racist governor has admitted to being in the photo. He has spoken about killing babies. Yet some would believe that this is not true. Fabrications. Good grief. Just stop it already. Governor Coonman is a terrible person. End of story. The Commonwealth deserves better.


[spam] More lies, and this is not about Northam. And then he didn’t admit it, do you know better than the people who investigated it? Where were you when the republicans McDonnell, Albo, Athey, Rapp and Suit said the same thing about abortion on January 8, 2003? More hypocrisy from the right, it’s okay when they say it but not when the other side does. More fake news!


Wow, somebody is putting in the overtime to defend the indefensible.Governor Coonman the baby murderer will surely be thankful.


If republicans didn't have to make up lies to try and get the advantage they know they would lose. Voter deserve the truth and make their decisions on the facts. This constant lie about infanticide is just another tactic that doesn't deserve recognition. If you can't trust your own people to vote republican then I guess you feel the need to lie to them. Doesn't say much about republicans.


It’s great to be a Democrat! Anyone else would have been forced out of office with unrelenting assault from the corrupt liberal media and vindictive twitter mobs.


If it weren't for Double standards, dems would have no standards at all.


Except republicans who have done this type of thing still have their jobs. Like Fox, Daily Caller, Infowars didn't go after Northam? Even the as you call it, liberal media went after him as soon as it broke. The blame game goes both ways in case you weren't looking.

Jeanne T

"The blame game goes both ways in case you weren't looking."

It does?? LOL


Like trumps twitters?


Can we please see the moon walk now?


If he was as confused/honest in medicine as he seems to be about this picture 95% of his patients would expire.


How is your memory from 35 years ago? Do you remember every stupid thing you did in college?


The epitome of hypocrisy.


If he was as honest/informed in medicine as he seems to be about this issue 95% of his patients would expire.


I guess that helps his point of it wasn't him. If it wasn't him why should he remember it?


Total and complete hypocrite.


Liberal double standards are so sickening. They simply have zero integrity. As the article notes, pressure to resign decreased once they realized all the top officials had scandals. And we found from the investigation that the college knew about the photos during Northam's campaign, but since they are "apolitical" they said nothing. Ha! We know how that would have ended if it was a Republican in the picture!


Mitch T - So true.


Who has pulled the "pressure to resign" ? Maybe you need to check out the lack of integrity of politicians, it is not, definitely not, reserved for any one party. People have other topics to deal with and life goes on. Did you really think this would be a top story everyday? Sure the knew, I'm sure they know about all the other racist pics in it, including the 1 across from his. I bet they just don't want the bad publicity.


Hypocrisy at its finest.


It’s him. He admitted it then backtracked. Apparently no one cares or he would have been forced from office.


Whatever. Hard to find this to be a big deal when the activity was common in the movies and on TV.


For sure, if it was a current activity that would be different, People back then considered black face the dark painting with an acting ignorant and dressing in rags.

More Cowbell

How do you not know if that's you in the photo? Did investigators even ask him?


How do you know it is? The head shape of the black faced kid doesn't look like his and the KKK guy seems short and he was tall. Why would anyone ask him since he already answered quite some time ago that it wasn't?

More Cowbell

He first stated Yes. Very easy question to answer, but being corrupt in politics is OK. So either he lied when he stated yes or he's lying now.


Cowbell, first he said yes because it was on his page and figured the school wouldn't make a mistake. There is no corruption of politics by having that picture, unethical, yes.


Intellectually dishonesty at its finest.


Did they find out who hosted the party and all those who attended the party? Somebody knows exactly who was wearing blackface and a klan outfit at that party.


That was a long time ago and there seems to have been quite a few people doing the black face thing throughout the yearbook.


Does it still make it right?


workhard, no it doesn't make it right, just saying that it could have been someone else.


Don't care about blackface nonsense but I do care about Northam, Tran and Boysko being willing to put live babies on a bench and discuss some retro abortion. That is murder not healthcare. Before it starts I did see his video multiple time and I know what he said and what he meant.


Again with the lies? Educate yourself PLEASE! Read the law and watch it again, you will see he is repeating the law as it exists. You are just lying to get people riled up, can't you find a real reason, like a factual one to use?


Typical millennial, I don't agree with you so you're wrong.


Agree 100%. The blackface story was a smoke screen to get Northam’s name Off the front page. After all, wasn’t it Biden who said "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden said. "I mean, that's a storybook, man.". Typical


What does Biden have to do with it? It was the republicans


Whitewashed the Blackface they did!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.