Ralph Northam's Racist Yearbook Photo: An Essential Reading List

Here are some stories from our archives on white supremacism and Virginia's history of racist incidents.
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Protesters rally against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam outside of the governor's mansion in downtown Richmond, Virginia, on February 4th, 2019.

Protesters rally against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam outside of the governor's mansion in downtown Richmond, Virginia, on February 4th, 2019.

Governor Ralph Northam (D-Virginia) was elected in November of 2017 in what seemed like a rebuke of Trump-era conservatism. He beat out Republican opponent Ed Gillespie, who hoped to keep Confederate monuments intact and refuse efforts to turn Virginia cities into immigrant sanctuaries.

Now, after a photo resurfaced over the weekend from Northam's personal page of his medical school yearbook showing a person in blackface next to someone donning a Ku Klux Klan robe, the governor is being seen in a different, white supremacist light.

Northam claims he was not one of the men in the photo, but the New York Times reports that each graduating student at Eastern Virginia Medical School was given half a page in the yearbook to leave behind their memories. He also said in a news conference Saturday that he recalls dressing in blackface for a San Antonio dance contest, where he won for his Michael Jackson costume and corresponding moonwalk.

Virginia's senators, lawmakers, and former governor are among those calling on Northam to resign. But the next two people in line for the Virginia governorship are facing scandals of their own: Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault, and Attorney General Mark Herring has also admitted to wearing blackface to a college party in the 1980s.

Here are some stories from our archives on white supremacism and Virginia's history of racist incidents.

  • In "'Hate Is Just Exhausting:' Growing Up With—and Running Away From—the Ku Klux Klan," Arvind Dilawar interviews the author of an autobiographical book about her life as daughter of a KKK member who rejects his white supremacist ideology. She says we are all born without prejudice, and adults can attempt to taint us with "ugly, hateful indoctrination," but she listened to her inner voice of love to escape their hateful way of life.
  • While some point to Virginia's Southern history as an explanation for the current situation, racism is not defined by geography. Brian Purnell and Jeanne Theoharis' story, "Beyond Charlottesville: The North's Long History With Racism," explains how the racial violence in Charlottesville was part of a national historic phenomenon.
  • In Emily Moon's 2018 article "How Has White Nationalism Changed in the Year Since Charlottesville?" she looks at statistics that show how white supremacist and anti-Semitic incidents grew in the year following the violence in Charlottesville.
  • In 2016, Ross Ufberg reviewed The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy, a book on the history of American comedy and how it serves to "show us who we really are." In some cases, it shows us we are racists: "Many comics, including Bob Hope, were practitioners of blackface and often employed racial and ethnic stereotypes in their acts."
  • In a recent tweet, Bishop Talbert Swan expressed that Democrats are "far more 'outraged' about #RalphNortham wearing blackface than police murdering unarmed people with a black face." For more on police brutality against black Americans, read Nikole Hannah Jones' personal essay, "Taking Freedom: Yes, Black Americans Fear the Police. Here's Why."

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