Virginia report inconclusive about Ralph Northam, controversial yearbook photo
May 22 (UPI) — In a rather anticlimactic turn Wednesday, officials in Virginia announced the results of an investigation into a racially-insensitive yearbook from 35 years ago involving Gov. Ralph Northam.
Eastern Virginia Medical School decided last year to look into the 1984 photo, which shows two men — one in blackface and the other in Ku Klux Klan regalia. Northam has said he’s in the photo, but it’s still unclear which is he. In its conclusion Wednesday, the school said it’s unable to identify the persons in the photo.
“No one we interviewed, however, could provide any first-hand knowledge of an actual mistake on any page, including any personal page, within the 1984 yearbook,” the school said in the 55-page report. “We were also not able to conclusively determine the origin of the photograph.”
The photo caused substantial backlash for Northam, who’s said previously he hasn’t seen the photo before and he’s not either of the two persons pictured.
The photo’s discovery last year prompted many to call for his resignation. EVMS hired the law firm Maguie Woods, which contacted more than 80 people and interviewed 30, including five members of the yearbook staff.
The controversy enveloped Northam because it appeared on his personal page in the yearbook. This year, Northam speculated it had been placed there by mistake.
“We found no information that the photograph was placed in error, though we acknowledge there is scant information on this subject thirty-five years after the fact,” the report states.
Investigators did, however, dispute Northam’s claim that he’d never seen the picture before.
“One witness has reported to us that he recalls reviewing the governor’s personal yearbook page with [Northam] in 1984,” it says. “While the governor denies that this encounter occurred, this witness’ account would indicate that the governor did know about the photograph in 1984.
“However, the witness did not think the Governor was personally depicted in the photograph.”
Northam said initially he was indeed in the photo, but later went back on that remark, saying he spoke in error. Northam did not immediately comment on the school’s report.
“I want to have all the facts. And I want Virginia to have all the facts,” he said in February. “I think we will continue to collect information to definitively prove, in addition to my word, that I’m not in that picture.”
Northam has spent several months attempting to rehabilitate his image as a result of the controversy. He’d planned to start a “reconciliation tour” this year, but canceled the first event in February after Virginia Union University, a historically black college, asked him not to come.