A much-awaited investigation into how a racist photo wound up on Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page is completed and the school will release the findings Wednesday.
EVMS announced that a team from the law firm McGuireWoods, led by former state Attorney General Richard Cullen, had completed its monthslong investigation into the origins of the photo — depicting one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe — and the broader culture at EVMS at the time that led to it.
The 10:30 a.m. news conference in Norfolk will include EVMS President Richard V. Homan, and McGuireWoods partners Cullen and George Martin. According to the governor’s public schedule, he will be in Lexington on Wednesday morning.
The investigation is expected to shed light on Northam’s involvement with the photo. Northam apologized for being in the photo Feb. 1, the day it became public. The next day he backtracked, saying that he is not one of the people pictured and that he doesn’t know how the photo wound up on the page. Northam also disclosed that he wore blackface during a 1984 dance contest in San Antonio.
Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the top-ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, confirmed that the law firm met with him about the investigation almost two weeks ago.
Torian said investigators for McGuireWoods met with him on May 10 about his recollection of “a conversation I may have had with the governor” on Feb. 1, the same day that a conservative blog, Big League Politics, first published the photo.
He said Northam was “apologetic” in their Feb. 1 conversation but did not say that he believed he was in the photograph.
“I do not recall him making an admission,” Torian said. “I recall him apologizing.”
Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, the caucus’s chairman, said he was alerted about the report’s upcoming release from Homan and is looking forward to reading it.
He added, however, that he has “more concerns about how we address some of the systematic racism that shows up in the commonwealth today — in health, education, criminal justice.”
The unearthing of the photo plunged the Northam administration into crisis and prompted widespread calls for his resignation.
It also set off a chain of events that saw two of Virginia’s other top state officials battle their own crises: two women accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface in college to depict a black rapper.
After a couple of interviews in which he vowed to battle inequity in the state and lead Virginia through the pain caused by the photo, Northam has spent the past few months working to return to normalcy.
He has made regular public appearances since April, many to announce economic development news or deliver keynote speeches at events around the state.
Northam vowed to focus his administration on racial inequity, and during the General Assembly session he touted progress on issues such as license suspensions, foster care and evictions. Northam also pledged to veto any future legislation to implement mandatory minimum sentences.
Still, the controversy has dogged his political maneuvering. His political fundraising arm raised just $2,500 from three individuals in the first quarter of the year since the racist photo surfaced.
Northam has since received four $10,000 donations and staff for his PAC says the governor attended two fundraising events in April — both held quietly and not advertised.
A scheduled fundraiser in March with Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, fueled protests from the local chapter of the NAACP, resulting in the cancellation of the governor’s appearance. Northam’s administration later announced he would not be delivering commencement speeches this graduation season.
A “reconciliation tour” never quite took off publicly after a false start with the cancellation of an event at Virginia Union University. Northam promised to visit the campus at a later date for a discussion about race, but the visit has not materialized.
Privately, Northam has continued to meet with African American leaders from across the state.
One event Friday with Virginia First Cities, an organization made up of local officials and staff for many of the state’s urban municipalities, was closed to the press, as was a March roundtable discussion with community leaders in Danville.