Patterico's Pontifications


Investigation Findings Released: Unable To Determine Whether Gov. Northam Was In Racist Yearbook Photo

Filed under: General — Dana @ 1:01 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Hoo-boy. First, let’s review what Gov. Northam himself said after the photo was made public. After acknowledging that the photo was “clearly racist and offensive,” he said:

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.

A day later, he walked back his apology, denying that it was him in the picture.

Today, a 55-page report concerning an investigation into Gov. Northam’s alleged participation in the photograph was released by the law firm of McGuire Woods. Investigators stated that that they were unable to conclusively determine if the Governor was actually in said picture. Further, the report revealed that Eastern Virginia Medical School knew about the photo while Gov. Northam was running for office, but said nothing:

Lawyers hired to investigate racist content in Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbooks could not definitively say whether Gov. Ralph Northam appeared in the infamous blackface and KKK picture in the 1984 edition.

But a report released Wednesday says two EVMS presidents, including current president Richard Homan, were told about the racist photo while Northam was running for political offices and decided not to make it public.

“We understand President Homan’s reasoning was EVMS should not become involved, or be seen to become involved, in an election as it is a public body and a public institution, and that EVMS did not not want there to be any suggestion that it had tried to influence Governor Northam in any respect by calling the photograph to his attention,” the document says.


In one case, the school’s alumni affairs director noticed the photo while preparing for a reunion and was “shocked” by it, the report says. EVMS officials decided not to put the 1984 yearbook on a table with other years’ editions. The McGuire Woods lawyers say they do not know when that occurred.

“The EVMS personnel who became aware of the photograph expressed surprise and disappointment in the photograph,” the report says.

Richard V. Homan, president and provost of the EVMS School of Medicine, speaks during a press conference about Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page on Wednesday, May 22, 2019.

At a press conference Wednesday, Homan stood by his decision not to tell Northam or the public about the racist photo earlier.

“I would make the same decision now,” he said. “We’re apolitical, and I did not feel that it was a necessary disclosure to make.”

Questions have been raised about the impartiality of the investigation made by McGuireWoods law firm, given that team member Richard Cullen is not only a partner at McGuireWoods, but is also the former Attorney General of Virginia.

According to Cullen, the reason for Gov. Northam’s backpedal on his apology for being in blackface, was that the Governor chose to err on the side of caution but was then regretful that he hadn’t denied it.

The report says, that along with Gov. Northam and his wife, 52 people were interviewed during the investigation, and that at least one former student opted not to be interviewed.

The questions of why the governor would initially admit that it was him in the yearbook photo and then deny it was addressed by former AG Cullen at a press conference:

The best we can conclude is that he erred on the side of caution initially and immediately regretted not having denied.

It should also be noted that in the report, one verified former student claims to have been with then student Northam before their graduation, and they perused Northam’s yearbook page together. The unnamed individual claims that Northam did not voice any objections about the content of his personal page or the photographs it contained:

We also interviewed an alumnus who attended EVMS in the same timeframe as Governor Northam. This individual recalled talking to Governor Northam outside of the EVMS library in the weeks before the class of 1984 graduated. This alumni told us he and Governor Northam flipped through the 1984 yearbook together and that included looking together at Governor Northam’s personal page. This individual did not recall the Governor having any reaction to the photographs on his personal page that would suggest the Governor thought there was an error on his page. He did remember discussing the photograph featuring the car on Governor Northam’s page. This former student told us that he did not believe Governor Northam was in the Photograph.

We have verified that this individual did attend EVMS based on his inclusion in the yearbooks and student data provided by the school. The timeframe in which the individual describes this encounter with the Governor is potentially within the timeframe that yearbooks would have been distributed to students in 1984, although we lack precise information regarding when this reported encounter occurred and when specifically the 1984 yearbooks issued to students. Though the evidence as to the timing of distribution is not definitive, several individuals from the Class of 1984 have reported to us that they received the yearbooks on or shortly before graduation. Graduation occurred on June 16, 1984. We are not aware of any motive this individual would have to fabricate this account. As with all witness accounts related to the 1984 yearbook, there is the element of the passage of time and that any person’s recollection may dim after thirtyfive years. With that said, this individual did not report any difficulty of memory. We note that this account, if accurate, is apparently inconsistent with the Governor’s statement that the first time he reviewed the Photograph was on February 1, 2019.23

Following up on the former student’s claim, Gov. Northam, when asked about it said that he would not have had the discussion with a student in another class, and that he could not remember such an individual, nor having reviewed his yearbook with him before graduation.

Gov. Northam released a statement today after the investigation results were made public:

I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. 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.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


7 Responses to “Investigation Findings Released: Unable To Determine Whether Gov. Northam Was In Racist Yearbook Photo”

  1. No word on whether or not he followed his advisers admonition to read Alex Haley’s Roots...

    Dana (779465)

  2. This has truly gone around the bend. Northam was the one who submitted the photos.

    Paul Montagu (7968e9)

  3. The sad fact is that black folk in Virginia don’t care. Until that changes, nothing changes.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  4. You know, Paul Montague, my guess is that if they polled all the other students that year (or any other year) about whether their personal yearbook pages had been messed with and ended up with offensive photos on it, the vast majority or maybe even all of them would say that no such harm had been done.

    Dana (779465)

  5. Racism is only a cudgel to use against people on the right. That’s why the definition changes as needed.

    NJRob (a5e74b)

  6. Pitiful.

    skwilli (a0813f)

  7. And in another update, investigators report they are still looking for the killers of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

    Bored Lawyer (998177)

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