Investigation inconclusive: Racist photo in Gov. Northam’s yearbook remains a mystery

Virginia News

NORFOLK, Va. (WRIC) — The investigation conducted in response to a racist photograph surfacing in Governor Ralph Northam’s medical college yearbook “could not conclusively” determine if the governor was in the image. 

Eastern Virginia Medical School hired McGuireWoods law firm to conduct an investigation when a photograph of a man dressed in blackface and another in a KKK robe was found on Northam’s yearbook page. The image surfaced in February.

The law firm overseeing the investigation into a controversial photo surrounding Gov. Ralph Northam will share their findings Wednesday.

Northam initially said he was in the photograph, but then later denied he was either man.  

The law firm’s investigation also looked into the process these yearbooks are put together and “sought to determine whether there is information that the photograph was placed on his personal page in error or by any other means not at his direction.”

While the investigation was inconclusive on this issue, the report found one witness told investigators that he remembers reviewing the Governor’s personal yearbook page with the Governor in 1984. The Governor denied this encounter happened. The report also notes the “witness did not think the Governor was personally depicted in the photograph.” 

EVMS officials say there was no limit to the scope of the investigation. The head of the NAACP in Portsmouth in the audience of the press conference Wednesday called into question the potential bias in this investigation. McGuireWoods law firm has donated thousands of dollars to Northam’s gubernatorial campaign as well as his political action committee, The Way Ahead, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). 

8News asked McGuireWoods if they thought Gov. Northam was telling the truth when asked about this interaction.

“Taken his statement as face value as we are the other person,” investigators said. “It was 35 years ago, he wasn’t even the governor then. He was a student not even in the same class as that person.”

The investigation found from 1976 to 2013, EVMS yearbooks were published as an almost entirely student-run program, “with little to no oversight” from the EVMS administration.

Photographs with people wearing blackface are not isolated in the yearbooks, the investigation found. There are several images published in yearbooks from the 1980s, the most photographs like this were in yearbooks from 1984 and 1985. Individuals in blackface were published as recently as 2004. 

Parts of the investigation also include interviews with Gov. Northam about what happened after the photograph was released. Northam told investigators “he did not write the statements he released on Friday,” but read and approved them before they were published. 

EVMS President Richard Homan said during the news conference he was made aware of the photo on Northam’s yearbook page during the gubernatorial campaign and chose not to disclose it to the public.

“I decided that we did not enter any opportunity to have that photo enter the press or provide a political process that we’re dealing with today, frankly,” Homan said.

Homan added, “We’re apolitical. And I did not feel that that was a necessary disclosure I needed to make.”

Gov. Northam issued a statement Wednesday afternoon following the press conference, stating again that he isn’t in the photo and apologizing for the hurt this has caused Virginians. 

Read the full statement below: 

“I have cooperated with Richard Cullen and his team over the course of their investigation, both by making myself available for interviews and by turning over the findings of my private inquiry into the matter. I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. That being said, I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have caused hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry. I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion. In visits with local leaders across the Commonwealth, I have engaged in frank and necessary dialogue on how I can best utilize the power of the governor’s office to enact meaningful progress on issues of equity and better focus our administration’s efforts for the remainder of my term. That conversation will continue, with ensuing action, and I am committed to working to build a better and more equitable Virginia for all who call it home.”

The Republican Party of Virginia also issued a statement reiterating their call for Gov. Northam to resign. 

“The Republican Party of Virginia’s call for Ralph Northam’s resignation is unwavering. Ralph Northam admitted to wearing blackface and embarrassed our Commonwealth on an international scale. Only one person has confessed to being in the racist photograph, and that person is Ralph Northam.

“While the Governor has been professing ignorance as to the origin of the photograph or its inclusion in his yearbook entry, his subsequent actions – including his reversal on a 60-day mandatory minimum sentence for abusers convicted of domestic violence – suggest a guilty conscience.

“Ralph Northam does not represent Virginia. Virginia will not tolerate racism. Virginia will not tolerate another day of Ralph Northam’s so-called leadership. For the good of the Commonwealth, Ralph Northam needs to resign today.” — RPV Chairman Jack Wilson

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News for updates.


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