RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Friday acknowledged appearing in a “clearly racist and offensive” photograph in his 1984 medical school yearbook that shows a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

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“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. “This behavior is not in keeping with who I am 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, 59, did not say whether he was the man dressed in blackface or the one in a Klan robe and hood.

Calls for his resignation, which began as a trickle, turned into a torrent as the night progressed. Late Friday, even his most trusted allies called for him to step down, including his onetime partner, former governor Terry McAuliffe (D), state Senate and House Democrats, Virginia’s legislative Black Caucus and Planned Parenthood. Pressure built, too, from national Democrats, including presidential hopefuls Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Julián Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio.

“Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay,” tweeted Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP. “No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior, which is why the @NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor @RalphNortham.”

Ralph Northam’s page in the 1984 yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School in which two people are wearing blackface and a KKK costume. (Ralph Northam’s page in the 1984 yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School in which two people are wearing blackface and a KKK costume. Obtained by The Washington Post)

The photo reverberated across the country and shook Virginians, who have struggled with a long and difficult legacy around race.

Northam’s ugly yearbook photo and the racist origins of blackface

“Virginia’s history is unfortunately replete with the scars and unhealed wounds caused by racism, bigotry and discrimination,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who plans to run for governor in 2021. “It is imperative that Governor Nor­tham hears and truly listens to those who are hurt by this image as he considers what comes next.”

Herring’s remarks, which stopped short of calling for Northam’s resignation, closely echoed sentiments expressed by the state’s U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats.

Members of the state legislature’s Black Caucus said earlier that “what has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible, and offensive. We feel complete betrayal. The legacy of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African Americans for over 400 years. These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins. Those who would excuse the pictures are just as culpable.”

President Trump | “Democrat Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia just stated, ‘I believe that I am not either of the people in that photo.’ This was 24 hours after apologizing for appearing in the picture and after making the most horrible statement on ‘super’ late term abortion. Unforgivable!” (Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post)For The Washington Post
Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D) | “This has been a heartbreaking day. Ralph Northam is my friend and he served well as my Lt. Governor and as Governor. His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time. The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It’s time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward.” (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)The Washington Post
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) | “Gov. Northam should resign. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should step in and begin a new day for Virginia.” (Win McNamee/Getty Images)Getty Images
Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William) | “I stand in solidarity with the @VaBlackCaucus in calling for the resignation of the governor of Virginia. Who I know him to be today is not reflective of his racist past but the wound ripped open today by that racism has irreparably harmed our commonwealth and hurt our people.” (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)The Washington Post
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez | “I spoke with Governor Northam this morning. His past actions are completely antithetical to everything the Democratic Party stands for. Virginians and people across the country deserve better from their leaders, and it is clear that Ralph Northam has lost their trust and his ability to govern. The Democratic Party believes that diversity is our greatest strength and that hatred and racism have no place in our democracy. And we will never hesitate to hold accountable people who violate those values, regardless of their party affiliation. It’s time for Ralph Northam to step aside and let Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax serve Virginians as their next Governor. Justin is a dedicated public servant who is committed to building a brighter future for the Commonwealth of Virginia.” (Mary Altaffer/AP)AP
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) | “If Governor Northam loves Virginia the way I know he does, he will resign to allow the Commonwealth to focus on its place in addressing the history of slavery and racism in America.” (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)The Washington Post
Former vice president Joe Biden | “There is no place for racism in America. Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately, Justin Fairfax is the leader Virginia needs now.” (Jose Luis Magana/AP)AP
Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) | “The Governor needs to resign. We’ve spoken twice since this story broke, and I encouraged him to resign because it’s what’s best for Virginia. This is a difficult time for our Commonwealth, but I know we can move forward start healing under the leadership of @LGJustinFairfax.” (Pete Marovich for The Washington Post)For The Washington Post
Presidential candidate Julián Castro | “My perspective hasn’t changed. He has clearly lost the confidence of his delegation and many of the people he serves, and has seemed to give conflicting explanations over the last two days of the situation. The state would be better served with Justin Fairfax as governor.” (Eric Gay/AP)AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) | “The photo is racist and contrary to fundamental American values. I join my colleagues in Virginia calling on Governor Northam to do the right thing so that the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia can heal and move forward.” (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)The Washington Post
Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine | Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (not pictured), all Democrats from Virginia, said in a joint statement: “After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign. Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.” (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)AFP/Getty Images
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson | “We are deeply disappointed in Governor @RalphNortham’s decision to not resign today. His failure to take accountability for his actions is sickening. He says he used shoe polish on his face to mimic Michael Jackson, yet denies he ever used Black face. This is unacceptable for any leader.” (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Getty Images
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) | “These racist images are deeply disturbing. Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders – Republican or Democrat. Northam must resign.” (Brian Snyder/Reuters)Reuters
Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) | “It is never easy to condemn a personal friend, but Governor Northam’s past behavior is indefensible. I know the Governor has dedicated his life to public service, and he has advanced policies to help African Americans and Virginians from all walks of life. I take him at his word that he is deeply sorry, and that he understands that his behavior was inappropriate and offensive. History will have to judge his life and public record, and this chapter will be a major stain on that record. The Governor must now make the right decision that is best for the Commonwealth of Virginia.” (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)The Washington Post
Former NAACP chair and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous | “Governor Northam should resign. Period. We would not accept such behavior from a Republican. How can we from a Democrat? . . . He has shown a profound failure of character, courage and candor. Character would have driven [him] not to do this in the first place. He failed. Courage would have motivated him during the years since, not to mention during his long tenure in public service, to come forward[,] disclose the error of his ways and apologize. He failed. . . . Q: What’s worse? That Northam knew he was in the photo but wanted us to believe that he couldn’t remember whether he put black shoe polish on his face or donned a Klan hood. OR Now having said he was in the photo he wants us to believe [he] actually wasn’t. A: Just Quit.” (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)The Washington Post
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) | “These images arouse centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence and they’ve eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam’s ability to lead. We should expect more from our elected officials. He should resign.” (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) | “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.” (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)AP
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) | “The racist photo of Governor Northam on his EVMS yearbook page is absolutely disturbing and unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric that this photo represents has no place in our Commonwealth, and especially not the Governor’s mansion.” (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)THE WASHINGTON POST
Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) | “I am so deeply disappointed and dismayed by the horrific picture of Governor Northam that surfaced today. Four hundred years ago, Africans arrived in this country, enslaved and kept as slaves for over two hundred years. Systemic racism is still endemic today in every part of America. Virginia has a particularly sordid history with racism from the first enslaved Africans on our shores, to the capital of the Confederacy to Massive resistance to the struggles African-American Virginians face today. “In light of that stain on our Commonwealth and the work that still needs to be done, I ask the governor to step aside. While I acknowledge his efforts on behalf of all Virginians and the good he has done as a senator, as our lieutenant governor and now as governor, Virginians have too much to overcome and too much healing yet in front of us.” (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)THE WASHINGTON POST
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) | “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment.” (Andrew Harnik/AP)AP
Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder (D), the nation’s first elected black governor | “I stated, earlier, that Gov. Northam’s continuing in office was his choice to make. It is difficult for anyone who watched the press conference today to conclude that he has any other choice . . . but to resign.” (Matthew Dae Smith/AP)AP
Former congressman Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who lost to Northam in the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary | “As painful as yesterday was for Virginia, I hoped that today would bring healing, truth and transformation. I pray Sunday will be that day. This isn’t just about an old racist photo. It has opened wounds when we should be building a more inclusive Virginia.” (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)The Washington Post
Photo Gallery: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized Friday for the photo but refused to resign despite an avalanche of calls for the Democrat to step down.

The caucus was also grappling with revelations in another yearbook, from Northam’s time at Virginia Military Institute. That book listed one of his nicknames as “Coonman,” which some members interpreted as a racial slur.

A Northam spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the nickname’s meaning.

Hours after his apology, the governor released a video that repeated his contrition but said he intended to serve out the remaining three years of his term.

If Northam were to resign, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Fairfax, a descendant of slaves, would serve the remaining years in Northam’s term and then be eligible to run for a full four-year term.

Northam’s resignation would be the first in modern Virginia history.

The image in the yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School was on a page with other photos of Northam and personal information about the future governor. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, graduated from the medical school in Norfolk in 1984 after earning an undergraduate degree from VMI.

The yearbook page is labeled “Ralph Shearer Northam” and has photos of him in a jacket and tie, casual clothes and alongside his restored Corvette.

Another photo shows two people, one in plaid pants, bow tie and blackface and the other in a Klan robe. Both appear to be holding beer cans. The person in blackface is smiling. Beneath the photo, Northam lists his alma mater and his interest in pediatrics and offers a quote: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.”

Jack Wilson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said Northam should step down. “Racism has no place in Virginia,” Wilson said in a statement. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

Vivian Paige, a longtime political activist in Norfolk who has known Northam since he first ran for office, said she was distraught over the news and felt Northam should step down.

“I’m disappointed and I believe that he can’t lead the party anymore,” said Paige, who is African American. “Ralph and I are a year apart in age. It really cuts to the bone to me that someone would do that at our age. Our generation — the tail end of the baby boom — we grew up in an integrated society. How could you not know that was wrong?”

Several Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation also called for Northam to resign, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria and A. Donald McEachin, who is African American and served with Northam in the state Senate.

The yearbook image was first posted Friday by the website Big League Politics, a conservative outlet founded by Patrick Howley, a former writer for the Daily Caller and Breitbart.

The Washington Post independently confirmed the authenticity of the yearbook by viewing it in the medical school library in Norfolk.

The revelation comes after a wild week for Northam, who was accused by Republicans of advocating infanticide after he made comments defending a bill that would have lifted restrictions on late-term abortions. It was more surprising because Northam has billed himself as the political antidote to Donald Trump — an aw-shucks leader with a boring speaking style and a reputation for honesty. He gained the trust of Republicans, who worked with him last year to pass Medicaid expansion in the state after four years of resisting it under the previous governor, McAuliffe.

The racist origins of blackface

House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) and other Republican leaders released a statement Friday that called the yearbook image “a deeply disturbing and offensive photograph.”

In his statement, Northam said that he recognized “that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”

A Northam ally, Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) defended the governor.

“His whole life has been about exactly the opposite, and that’s what you need to examine, not something that occurred 30 years ago,” Saslaw said. “While it’s in very poor taste, I would think no one in the General Assembly would like their college conduct examined. I would hate to have to go back and examine my two years in the Army. Trust me. I was 18 years old and I was a handful, okay? His life since then has been anything but. It’s been a life of helping people, and many times for free.”

Saslaw later said he agreed with the legislative Black Caucus.

Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-King George), one of the governor’s closest friends, said he had not been able to talk to Northam about the yearbook and did not know what to make of it, but stood by him.

“He’s my friend and I will always stand up for him,” said Stuart, who also took exception to claims that Northam had advocated infanticide.

Northam and the lure of the steady physician

Joan Naidorf, whose husband’s yearbook page is opposite Northam’s in the yearbook, said she was surprised the photos are only now coming out, given Northam’s stature in Virginia politics.

“We’ve often wondered over the last 10 years or so why someone didn’t dig this up sooner,” said Naidorf, a nonpracticing emergency room physician who lives in Alexandria.

She said that when she first saw the photo, shortly after the yearbook was published, “I thought: ‘That’s awful.’ I assumed it was something at a drunken frat party.”

She said she didn’t know when or where the photos were taken. Her husband, Tobin, wasn’t available Friday. He met Northam a few times when they worked medical rotations together but weren’t friends, Joan Naidorf said.

Eastern Virginia Medical School allowed students to pick their own photos for their yearbook page, Naidorf said. Her husband chose their engagement photo and other personal pictures. Another student chose a picture of men in blackface and dressed as women in what appears to be a variety-show routine.

Northam has built his 12-year political career on a clean-cut image as a soft-spoken doctor and Army veteran who headed the Honor Council at VMI, a demanding job in which he passed judgment on fellow students accused of lying or violating the school’s honor code.

First elected to the state Senate from Norfolk in 2007, Northam has had a charmed political career. He was courted by Republicans because of his conservative leanings, and was identified early by Kaine, who was then governor, as gubernatorial material because of his experience in both health care and the military. Northam served in the Army for eight years after medical school and treated soldiers wounded in the Persian Gulf War.

VA showcased portrait of KKK’s first wizard

After serving as McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor, Northam ran for governor in 2017. During the campaign, he paid special attention to black churches, often attending two or three on Sundays. His home pastor is African American. After the racial violence in Charlottesville that summer, Northam was among the quickest Virginia political figures to react, making an emotional plea that all Confederate monuments should come down.

He later walked that back and now says it should be up to localities, but he said recently that his personal belief is that such statues are harmful.

Northam grew up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the fishing village of Onancock. His father was a judge and his mother a schoolteacher. Northam and his brother attended a desegregated public high school, where Northam played basketball and baseball.

The origins of blackface date to minstrel shows in the 19th century, when white actors covered themselves in black greasepaint to portray African Americans in a cartoonish, dehumanizing way. The minstrel shows put forth racist notions of African Americans as primitive, childish and inferior.

Fla. secretary of state resigns after photo of him in blackface

Last week, Michael Ertel, Florida’s secretary of state, resigned after the emergence of photos from 2005 of him in blackface, apparently mimicking victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Former Fox News and NBC journalist Megyn Kelly stirred controversy in October for defending blackface in Halloween costumes.

Morrison reported from Norfolk. Antonio Olivo in Washington contributed to this report.

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