Lawmakers appear on Sunday TV shows to call for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's resignation over a racist yearbook photo

ralph northam
  • The discovery of a 1984 yearbook page dedicated to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) with a photo of a man wearing blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe sparked calls from both sides of the aisle for the governor to resign.
  • Lawmakers and interest group leaders took to Sunday's political shows to double down on calls for Northam's resignation.
  • Many took issue with Northam's confusing stance on the picture. He first admitted that it was him, then denied being in the picture at all and disclosed he once covered his skin with shoe polish to perform as Michael Jackson.

A picture from a 1984 yearbook page dedicated to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) depicting a man wearing blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe sparked calls from both sides of the aisle for the governor to resign.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe led the charge of lawmakers sounding off on Northam's next steps Sunday, which seemed unclear over the weekend as he initially admitted to being in the photo, before denying that it was him and saying he had once used shoe polish to darken his skin for a performance as Michael JacksonAdvertisement

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called for Northam's resignation shortly after the photo from Eastern Virginia Medical School's yearbook went viral Friday and into Saturday, though the governor said in a press conference that he had no intention do so, as it would be avoiding "an honest conversation about harmful actions from the past."

McAuliffe said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the damage done by the picture would leave Northam no choice but to resign.

"Once that picture with the blackface and klansman came out there is no way you can continue to be the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia," McAuliffe said.  

The former governor called Northam "a good, moral, decent man," who "may have made some mistakes in his past," and despite the explanations he already made about the picture, will likely resign soon.

"We all have made mistakes," McAuliffe said. "Ralph will do the right thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He will put Virginia first. And I think that will happen relatively soon."McAuliffe also took issue with Northam's delayed denial of being in the picture, saying on CNN Sunday the governor should have "come out immediately" with an explanation.Advertisement

"You know if you put black paint on your face," he said. "You know if you put a hood on. And so if it isn't you, you come out with immediately and say this is not me."

Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus echoed calls for Northam's resignation, with Virginia Rep. Donald McEachin saying that though he was grateful for the governor's leadership, Northam had "lost the authority to govern" and should resign in "the best interest of the Commonwealth" and the Democratic party.

The CBC's Rep. Karen Bass called Northam's handling of the situation "completely dishonest and disingenuous" and out of step with African American leaders when he knew of the picture's existence.Advertisement

"He knew this picture was there and he could have come clean and talked to African-Americans that he's close to decades ago," Bass said. "And I think given the overall climate around race in this country, especially over the last two years, it's completely unacceptable."

Read more: 'No defense for that shockingly racist photograph': Democrats are calling for Gov. Ralph Northam's resignation after he appears in racist 1984 yearbook photo

One of Northam's few public defenders former Virginia Rep. Jim Moran also spoke out Sunday, saying that Northam's track record is in tune with the realities facing African Americans, and his story should offer the hope of "redemption." He is one of the few that said the governor shouldn't resign.Advertisement

"Even if the worst case scenario is true, I think there is an issue of redemption. Redemption is a very powerful factor in what people are able to accomplish," Moran said on ABC's "This Week."

"Ralph understands the endemic racism that has been part of Virginia's society for so long," Moran said, pointing to the 400-year history of slavery in Virginia. "He understands that legacy better than many people are able to and I think we ought to give him an opportunity."

Northam's bungled explanation seemed to be the central issue taken by lawmakers and interest groups against the governor's next steps. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said on ABC's "This Week" that Northam should resign whether he's in the photo or not, because he never disclosed its existence.Advertisement

"Whether he actively participated or passively was present, he not one time up until this point acknowledged that this took place, objected to that behavior, or stated that, 'I had a different upbringing and I was part of a southern culture that embraced this racist, vile behavior and I'm a changed man now,'" Johnson said.

Johnson added that among others who have sought public office, many have proactively disclosed problematic issues and begun work reparative work with the relevant community.