How Virginia Governor Ralph Northam went from being a respected US Army veteran and physician to being embroiled in two national controversies

  • Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has been embroiled in controversy following the discovery of a 1984 yearbook photo featuring “racist and offensive” blackface and KKK costumes.
  • Northam is a former US Army medical officer and career physician who has been described as a staunch opponent of racism.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was thrust into the national spotlight over two controversies that have emerged after his first year in office.

After sparking debate with confusing comments about the dangers facing mothers and babies in later-term abortions, a 1984 yearbook photo featuring “racist and offensive” blackface and KKK costumes surfaced on the conservative site Big League Politics. Northam has faced condemnation from both sides of the aisle for the photos, and near-universal cries from politicians to resign.

Read more:

‘No defence for that shockingly racist photograph’: Democrats are calling for Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation after he appears in racist 1984 yearbook photo

Before the debacle, Northam had a thriving career.

Northam is a Virginia native, former US Army medical officer, and physician who has been described as a staunch opponent of racism, but the storm over his 1984 yearbook page seems to pose a serious threat to his previously strong reputation.

Northam was born and raised on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and attended the Virginia Military Institute before graduating with his M.D. from Eastern Virginia Medical School.

It was in an EVMS yearbook that the photo of two people in blackface and a KKK costume was found.

Source: Commonwealth of Virginia

Northam worked in residencies at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and served as chief neurological resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital for eight years in the United States Army.

During his time as a medical officer from 1984-1992, Northam was based in Germany, treating soldiers wounded in Operation Desert Storm.

Sources: Virginia General Assembly

Northam first entered politics in 2007 when he won Virginia 6th Senate district seat, gaining control of Norfolk and the Eastern Shore areas where he was raised.

Source: Ballotpedia

As a State Senator, Northam authored a bill that was passed in 2009 that banned smoking in most restaurants and bars.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot

Northam defeated Republican E.W. Jackson to become Lieutenant Governor in 2013.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesVirginia Lieutenant Gubernatorial candidates Democrat State Senator Ralph S. Northam and Republican E.W. Jackson arrive for a debate at Founders Hall at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday, September 24, 2013.

In 2015, Northam launched a campaign for governor that included emphasis on his past support for pro-choice policies, expanded resources for veterans, and childhood welfare and education.

Northam also received support during his bid from former President Barack Obama.

Northam’s campaign coincided with the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which he incorporated into his stance on removing Confederate statues.

Getty ImagesCHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – AUGUST 13: The statue of Confederat Gen. Robert E. Lee stands in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally devolved into violence August 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Northam supported moving Confederate symbols and statues to museums and said they should be replaced with figures that “elevate the parts of our history that have all too often been underrepresented,” including African-American activist Barbara Johns.

Source: Twitter

Northam became Virginia’s 73rd governor in 2018.

In an address to the General Assembly, newly inaugurated Northam emphasised the importance of diversity and inclusion by pointing out his majority-women cabinet and the increasing diversity of Virginia’s state government.

Source: WTVR Richmond

After nearly a year in office, Northam stoked controversy with his comments about a proposed state law that would loosen late-term abortion restrictions that some thought conveyed Northam’s tacit endorsement of infanticide.

Source: Vox

Days later, Northam’s personal page from the Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook was obtained by several newspapers that show a man wearing blackface and a bow tie standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan-style robe.

Northam confirmed the page’s authenticity amid calls from both sides of the aisle for him to resign, including Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, who said it was a “heartbreaking day.”

Source: Business Insider

After initially claiming the page as real, Northam reversed, reportedly telling Democratic lawmakers it wasn’t him in the photo and he would resist the calls to resign. Northam also promised an official announcement would come later Saturday.

Source: CNN

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.