Politics & Government

NC Gov. Roy Cooper calls on Virginia governor to resign over racist photo

Gov. Roy Cooper in a file photo. Cooper on Saturday called on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, to resign.
Gov. Roy Cooper in a file photo. Cooper on Saturday called on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, to resign. ehyman@newsobserver.com

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper joined a growing number of public officials calling for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after a racist photo in his 1984 yearbook album was made public.

“This is a reprehensible picture that is deeply disappointing and I know must come with pain beyond what many of us can even understand,” Cooper said on Saturday in a statement shared on his social media pages.

“Resignation is the only way forward.”

Northam, who is a Democrat like Cooper, is facing pressure to resign from his office after a picture of a man in blackface and another man in Ku Klux Klan robes was revealed on Friday. The picture appeared on his personal page in the 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School, but it is not clear who the people in the photo are, and Northam now says neither is him.

During a press conference on Saturday, Northam reiterated that he did not believe he was in the photo — and noted that it was not uncommon for the wrong photographs to be put onto a page in yearbooks. However, Northam went on to admit that he once went to a dance competition around the same time period in black face. Northam said he was dressing as Michael Jackson for the dance competition and used shoe polish to darken his features for the competition.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whom Northam served under as lieutenant governor, has also called on Northam to resign, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Northam apologized on Friday night for the photo, but by Saturday morning began to backtrack and said he did not think that it was him in the picture and that he would not resign, The New York Times reported.

On Friday night, Northam had seemed to indicate that he was in the photo.

“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,” Northam said in a video, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

If Northam does resign, the next in line to be governor of Virginia is lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax.

Fairfax, who is African-American, has several North Carolina connections.

He is an alumnus of Duke University, where he graduated with a degree in public policy studies in 2000, The New York Times reported.

And he was also a staffer for former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards, The Associated Press reported.

In a statement on Saturday, Fairfax said he was “shocked” by the images, but did not call on Northam to resign.

“While his career has been marked by service to children, soldiers and constituents, I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation,” Fairfax said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.