Was it Gov. Northam in racist yearbook photo? Investigation results released

The conclusions are inconclusive.

An investigation into who was in the racist photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page was unable to determine the identity of those involved, the law firm handling the investigation said Wednesday.

The investigation was also unable to determine how the picture — which shows a man in blackface standing next to someone in Ku Klux Klan clothing — got on Northam’s page to begin with but did not find any evidence that it was placed there by mistake.

Law firm McGuireWoods’ team said at a news conference that, while school officials interacted with the student yearbook team, they did not edit or censor the content.

“From 1976 to 2013, the EVMS yearbooks were published as an almost entirely student-run program, with little to no oversight exercised by the EVMS administration,” the report reads.

Also coming to light from the report is that two presidents of EVMS were aware of the racist photo on Northam’s page several years before the photo surfaced in February.

However, neither the current president of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Richard Homan, nor a previous one, Harry Lester, notified Northam or the public about the photo.

Both Lester and Homan are Northam donors, according to vpap.org.

Read the full Eastern Virginia Medical School report on the EVMS site.

The report says that nobody they interviewed over the course of the three-month investigation — 52 people — knew if Northam was in the racist photo and nobody has come forward to say it is indeed the governor.

The McGuireWoods team said they are confident in their findings, which included going through years of yearbooks.

“We thank EVMS for its cooperation and responsiveness during the investigation,” said Richard Cullen, who led the investigation. “EVMS ensured McGuireWoods had unfettered access to EVMS documents and members of the EVMS community. At no time was our inquiry restricted by EVMS, and the findings and conclusions contained in the report are our own.”

There are multiple instances of offensive content in EVMS’ past yearbooks.

“In the 1977 yearbook, there is a photograph of an Asian man with the caption ‘Yellow Peril,’ and a photograph of a woman of color with the caption ‘God’s gift to minorities,'” the report reads.

It then goes on to state that there are “several blackface photos” in yearbooks from the 1980s as well as other images that the law firm says it couldn’t determine were blackface or not: “The majority of the yearbooks feature black-and-white photographs, and it is difficult to ascertain whether a photograph of an individual in face paint and a costume is necessarily an individual in blackface.”

Blackface and other racist photos are present in EVMS yearbooks throughout the 1990s and up to 2004, according to the report. The final EVMS yearbook in 2013 — they were discontinued when Homan became president of the school that year — features a photo of men holding guns and wearing Confederate uniforms in front of a Confederate flag.

The photo on Northam’s yearbook page was one of at least three blackface photos in the 1984 publication.

One of the others shows a man in blackface who is dressed up as a woman wearing a wig. A caption reads: “‘Baby Love,’ who ever thought Diana Ross would make it to Medical School!”

Calling the photos “shockingly abhorrent,” school leaders commissioned an investigation into past yearbooks and the school’s culture. Thousands of letters and emails were sent to alumni asking for information as part of the investigation.

Former students who worked on the 1984 yearbook have disagreed over whether the photo could have been mistakenly placed on Northam’s page.

Northam said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that he cooperated with Cullen and his team and reiterated his denial: “I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.”

He added, “That being said, I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have caused hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry. I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion.”

Northam also said that he had had “frank and necessary dialogue” with local leaders “on how I can best utilize the power of the governor’s office to enact meaningful progress on issues of equity and better focus our administration’s efforts for the remainder of my term.”

Northam initially said he was in the photo and apologized but reversed course a day later and denied it was him.

“I will not excuse the content of the photo. It was offensive and racist,” Northam said during a Feb. 2 news conference.

“I was unaware of what was on my page … I believe then and now that I am not either of the people in the photo.”

The governor hasn’t been the only Virginia Democrat rocked by scandal this year.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring began his own public apology efforts in March after also admitting in February to once wearing blackface in the 1980s.

Herring began with a trip home to Northern Virginia and an editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been pushing back against accusations of sexual assault, insisting his interactions with Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson were “100%” consensual.

Fairfax took a polygraph test after the allegations. His office says the results show the allegations against him are false.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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