Virginia governor meets advisers as Democrats call for resignation amid blackface row
Feb 4 (Reuters) – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam met with his Cabinet on Monday amid a chorus of calls from fellow Democrats to resign over last week’s revelation of a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page.
A few dozen protesters gathered at the state capitol in Richmond to demand that Northam, a white man, step down, while Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is black, said there was “a lot of uncertainty” in the state’s government.
A conservative media website on Friday released a page from Northam’s yearbook depicting one person in blackface standing next to a masked person in the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan.
Northam, 59, initially apologized on Friday and said he was one of the two people in the photo, then changed his story Saturday, saying he did not appear in the picture but had dressed in blackface at another point that year.
The origins of blackface date to 19th-century “minstrel” shows in which white performers covered their faces in black grease paint to caricature slaves.
WATCH: Calls for resignation continue over Virginia governor’s controversial 1984 yearbook photo
The governor’s admission drew immediate demands for his resignation from Virginia politicians, the NAACP civil rights group and national political figures. At least five Democratic presidential candidates, including U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, both of whom are black, said Northam had lost the moral authority to lead.
WATCH: Virginia governor changes story on racist photo
Northam’s office did not respond to questions about his plans on Monday, but local media outlets reported he was meeting with advisers.
Fairfax, 39, who is in line to succeed Northam and become only the fifth African-American to serve as governor of a U.S. state, dating back to the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction, said he was not sure what Northam’s next move would be.
“I believe the governor has to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia,” Fairfax told reporters at the capitol.
Asked if he was preparing to possibly assume office as governor, Fairfax replied, “There is a lot of uncertainty right now in our government. But we always have to be ready.”
Should Northam resign, Fairfax would be the second black governor – after Douglas Wilder – in the history of Virginia, where his great-great-great grandfather once was a slave.
Earlier on Monday Fairfax released a statement denying a vague online report that a woman suggested he had sexually assaulted her in 2004.
“Tellingly, not one other reputable media outlet has seen fit to air this false claim,” the statement from Fairfax’s office said.
WATCH: Virginia lieutenant governor denies sexual assault allegation
At least two media outlets, including the Washington Post, said a woman had approached them more than a year ago with the same allegation. The outlets said they had been unable to substantiate her claim.
The report of the allegation was published on the same website, Big League Politics, that first published Northam’s yearbook page.
Northam said on Saturday he had donned blackface in the 1980s to portray pop star Michael Jackson in a dance competition.
WATCH: Conway reacts to Northam controversy over racist photo, says Trump called it ‘unforgivable’
During a Saturday news conference, Northam made light-hearted remarks about how hard it is to clean black shoe polish from one’s face and whether he should perform Jackson’s signature “moonwalk” dance for the cameras, but abstained at the advice of his wife.
“What happened Saturday was an unfortunate display, and rather tone-deaf to what the impact really is,” Derrick Johnson, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, told MSNBC on Monday.
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