Virginia Gov. Northam's medical school to release findings in racist yearbook investigation

It's unclear if the independent review has determined who was in the racist photo in the 1984 yearbook and how it came to be published on Northam's page.
Image:
Gov. Ralph Northam waits to speak during an event in Norfolk to announce finance agreements for the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project on April 25, 2019.Jonathon Gruenke / The Daily Press via AP file

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By Erik Ortiz

The results of an independent investigation launched in the wake of a racist photograph discovered on the page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook will be announced Wednesday, school officials said.

The probe's completion comes more than three months after the image surfaced online in February — and plunged Virginia politics into weeks of chaos after separate scandals engulfed Northam's fellow top Democrats, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

Northam, who graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School, initially said he was in the photo, which shows a man in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and apologized for it.

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A photo on Ralph Northam's page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School's 1984 yearbook appears to show a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.Eastern Virginia Medical School

But he defied members of his party who demanded that he step down, and said later in an interview with CBS News that he "overreacted" when he first apologized.

He said he "had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, 'This is not me in the picture.'" He has admitted to darkening his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance competition in 1984.

Northam, meanwhile, has pledged to focus his term more closely on issues of race and equality.

After the picture came to light, Eastern Virginia Medical School enlisted former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen of the McGuireWoods law firm to determine "historic facts and practices related to yearbooks and more broadly the culture at EVMS."

It's unclear if the investigation's findings have determined who was in the racist yearbook picture and how it came to be published on Northam's page.

A spokesman for Cullen's firm declined to comment Wednesday. Neither the governor's office nor school officials could immediately be reached for comment.

Richard Homan, the president of Eastern Virginia Medical School, said earlier this year that the investigation's purpose would be to determine how the yearbook was published and "discover what, if any, administrative oversight was exercised."

"We can't ignore the fact there were incendiary and outrageous and shockingly disturbing pictures in a yearbook," Homan previously told The Washington Post.