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Va. Sen. majority leader distances himself from racist photos, slur in yearbook he edited

In a 2016 photo, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City County, center, monitors the proceedings on the floor during the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

WASHINGTON — Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment was a top editor of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that included photos of people in blackface and slurs against black, Asian and Jewish people.

In a statement Thursday, Norment said he is not in and did not take the blackface photos on two specific pages of the yearbook. He also tried to distance himself from the content of the yearbook, by saying that he was part of a team of editors that worked on the publication, which was reviewed by the Virginian Pilot.

Other yearbooks from VMI and other colleges and universities across Virginia and elsewhere over several decades reviewed by various news outlets in the wake of the photo found last week in Gov. Ralph Northam’s Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook have also been found to include racist or other offensive content.

Northam now denies being in the photo of a person in blackface next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe, but admitted wearing blackface in a 1980s dance contest.

Attorney General Mark Herring has also admitted wearing blackface once as a University of Virginia Student in 1980.

Norment is a Republican, Northam and Herring are Democrats.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is denying a separate accusation of a 2004 sexual assault.

In a statement of his own provided to WTOP, House Speaker Kirk Cox called the photos in Norment’s VMI yearbook “abhorrent”, but distinguished between Norment’s participation and the other issues facing Virginia government.

“None of the photos include him, he’s spoken to his role as a member of the yearbook staff and shared his views on the admissions policy. It’s unfair to compare assisting in the production of a yearbook to the other revelations from this week,” Cox said.

Late Thursday, Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus said it stands by its call for Northam to resign, but will await further steps by Herring to reassure Virginians and will await an investigation of the accusation against Fairfax.

The Democrats in Virginia’s Congressional delegation matched that call.

Northam has appeared intent on staying on, but has remained behind closed doors since last Saturday’s news conference about the situation where he suggested he did not realize blackface was wrong until about two years ago.

The Democratic Caucus in Virginia’s House of Delegates suggested no major announcements are expected Friday.

“This weekend we will all be speaking with our constituents about their thoughts on how we best move forward as a Commonwealth, past these difficult days and toward a place of healing,” Virginia’s House Democrats said in a statement.

The General Assembly is due to adjourn for the weekend Friday afternoon, to return Monday for what is typically a breakneck final two weeks of the legislative session.

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