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Gov. Northam to meet with ‘Richmond 34’ civil rights activists

Ralph Northam is attempting to restart his role as governor through the "veto session" after an admission that he once wore blackface in the 1980s. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax will be back presiding over the Senate after he flatly denied two sexual assault accusations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

WASHINGTON — A group of famous civil rights activists plans to meet with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam as he remains caught up in a racially-charged scandal.

Northam said he would host members of the “Richmond 34” at the Executive Mansion Friday on the 59th anniversary of their arrest.

The group was taken into custody in 1960 during a sit-in protest in Richmond.

“Maybe we can help him in getting things moving forward in race relations,” said Elizabeth Johnson Rice, a member of the Richmond 34. “I know that he’s on a reconciliation tour.”

Northam has so far rejected widespread calls for his resignation. Instead, he has been trying to reach out to black leaders across the state after a racist photo surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page that showed someone in black face and a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Northam claimed he was not in the picture but admitted he wore blackface once in 1984 as part of a Michael Jackson costume.

When the scandal first broke, Rice said she was “very upset” and wanted Northam to step down.

But she has since changed her mind.

“All of us make mistakes,” said Rice. “Everyone deserves a second chance especially when they apologize and are trying to right what was wrong.”

Rice said she hopes Friday’s meeting will help Northam speak out against racial insensitivity.

“I want it to be a learning experience,” she said. “Something has got to be done to negate all of this stuff that’s been coming out. We’ve got to have a positive voice.”

The meeting follows a high-profile canceled visit from Northam at a historically black school Thursday.

Student leaders at Virginia Union University asked Northam not to show up because they were honoring the Richmond 34 and did not want Northam’s appearance to overshadow the tribute.

Northam said on Twitter that he would not attend because he wanted to respect “the wishes of the student body.”

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