Ralph Northam’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week
Up until a week ago, Governor Ralph Northam had great approval ratings. Then last week hit, and with the fallout from a photo of a person in blackface beside someone in a KKK robe on his page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School 1984 yearbook, we’re not sure whether Northam will still be in office by the time this paper hits stands.
January 30: Northam, a pediatric neurologist, discusses on WTOP a bill that would have eased restrictions on late-term abortions, which he said are rare and occur when there are severe fetal abnormalities or the pregnancy is nonviable. His comments about how those cases are handled drew accusations that he was advocating “infanticide”—and may have enraged a medical school classmate, who tipped off far-right website Big League Politics, according to the Washington Post.
February 1: Big League Politics publishes a four-paragraph story about Northam’s yearbook photo. That’s followed by a report that while at VMI, Northam’s nickname in that yearbook was “Coonman.”
February 1, 6:10pm: Northam releases a statement apologizing for the photo. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
11:15pm: Virginia House Democrats call for Northam’s resignation.
February 2, 9:58am: Delegate David Toscano, “with the heaviest of hearts,” says, “It is now clear that while the governor has done many good things in his career, and has been fighting for those most in need throughout his public life, he has lost the moral high ground at the core of his leadership.”
10:31am: The Democratic Party of Virginia says Northam should resign immediately.
12:20pm: City Councilor Wes Bellamy, who faced condemnation in 2016 for offensive tweets he’d made during his early 20s, says on Facebook he knows “firsthand what it feels like for something that you said in your younger years to come back and haunt you,” but he says Northam should resign.
2:30pm: Northam holds a press conference and says it wasn’t him in the photo—but that he did use shoe polish to appear as Michael Jackson in a dance contest in San Antonio in 1984, in which he moonwalked. He says he didn’t understand that blackface performances were offensive until a campaign staffer in 2017 told him they were, the Post reports.
3:30pm: Residents of historic African American community Union Hill denounce Northam’s commitment to racial justice, noting that he removed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board who had questioned Dominion’s plans to build a compressor station in their town. (The permit was later granted.)
6:44pm: Current U.S. senators and former Virginia governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with Congressman Bobby Scott, say it’s time for Northam to go.
February 3: Northam attends his Eastern Shore church, the predominantly black First Baptist Church Capeville. That evening, he meets with his cabinet.
February 3, late evening: Big League Politics turns its sights on Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who would take over if Northam resigns, claiming he sexually assaulted a woman in 2004, an allegation Fairfax denies.
February 4: Protesters demand Northam resign.
A brief history of local blackface
Blackface has a long history in America, and especially in Virginia, as Rhae Lynn Barnes, a Princeton University professor of American cultural history, pointed out in the Washington Post this week. A sampling of our city’s not-so-proudest moments:
1886: University Minstrel Troupe donates proceeds of a minstrel show to build the UVA Chapel.
WWI: A university-sponsored minstrel show takes place on the steps of the Rotunda.
1924: A Charlottesville Elks minstrel show runs ads ridiculing black soldiers (the same year the Lee statue is erected).
1970s: A Charlottesville Lions Club minstrel show is so popular it is recommended in city guidebooks.
2002: UVA’s Zeta Psi and Kappa Alpha Order fraternity members co-host a Halloween party where at least three students show up in blackface.
Quote of the week
“For all the evils in the world, I think apathy is the most dangerous.”—St. Anne’s-Belfield and UVA alum/Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long upon receiving the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his charity work
A12 going forward
City Council approved a resolution to commemorate the tragic events of August 11-12, 2017, on the second weekend in August with Unity Days. Events will take place on the Downtown Mall, Market Street, Court Square, and McGuffey parks, and on Fourth Street (conveniently making it impossible for any other group to try to hold a rally in those places on the anniversary).
For the 14th time, convicted murderer Jens Soering learned last week that he’d been denied parole. He’s been locked up for nearly 30 years for the 1985 slayings of Derek and Nancy Haysom, though his supporters say recent DNA evidence proves he isn’t responsible. In a new episode of the podcast “Wrongful Convictions,” Jason Flom interviews John Grisham and Sheriff Chip Harding, who believe Soering is innocent.
Charlottesville 12 death
Regina Dixon, one of the first 12 children to integrate Charlottesville schools following Massive Resistance in 1958, died January 27 at age 66. Dixon was 7 years old when she started school in 1959 at Venable Elementary, where a historic marker commemorates the event. She died following a five-year battle with cancer, according to her obituary.
Preston Avenue deux
In December, City Councilor Wes Bellamy called for a new moniker for Preston Avenue, which was named after Confederate soldier and slave owner Thomas Lewis Preston, UVA’s first rector, who met with Union generals and kept Charlottesville from being torched. City Council unanimously voted February 4 to rename the street—to Preston Avenue—for Asalie Minor Preston, a black educator who taught in segregated schools in the early 1900s.