The image shows someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit standing next to a man in blackface

By Matt McNulty
May 22, 2019 12:41 PM
Ralph Northam
Credit: Jonathon Gruenke/The Daily Press via AP

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has been under fire for a racist photo on his page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook, and independent investigators say it’s unclear who is in the image or where it came from.

The results of that investigation, conducted by law firm McGuireWoods, were released on Wednesday morning, with the Eastern Virginia Medical School claiming investigators “could not conclusively determine” whether Northam — who graduated with his medical degree — was the man in the picture.

Although investigators noted that the Virginia governor made “inconsistent public statements” about the racist photo in question, which shows someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit standing next to a man in blackface, they could not find anyone who could corroborate whether or not Northam was in the photograph itself.

Ralph Northam YearbookCredit: EVMS
Credit: EVMS

“No individual that we interviewed has told us from personal knowledge that the governor is in the Photograph, and no individual with knowledge has come forward to us to report that the governor is in the Photograph,” investigators said in the report released Wednesday.

“While we have identified no information that the Photograph was placed on Governor Northam’s personal page in error or by any other means not at his direction, we could not conclusively determine the origin of the Photograph,” investigators added.

Northam’s office did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.

The report said other “content that could be offensive to women, minorities, certain ethnic groups” has been featured in the school’s yearbook, “although with less frequency in the later years of the yearbooks’ publication.”

“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,” investigators added. “While there was an administration liaison in certain years, we have identified no information that
indicates that any faculty or administrators edited or censored student photographs or the
general contents of the yearbooks.”

Investigators said the school has focused on creating a “diverse and inclusive environment,” noting that efforts to do so have “significantly improved in the past five to ten years.”

The scandal broke back in February, when the yearbook photo was posted onto a conservative news website. The backlash of the scandal led for calls of Northam’s resignation, who apologized over the photo but declined to step down as governor. Northam took office back in January 2018.

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” he wrote in part in an initial statement made on the same day the photo was reported. “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.”

Northam eventually denied it was him after having “a chance to step back, take a deep breath” and study it.

However, during a Feb. 2 press conference, he admitted to using shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson during a dance competition in 1984, NBC News reported.

Since the scandal came to light, Northam has said he will use the remainder of his term as governor of Virginia to “advance issues of race and equality.”

This is not the first time Northam’s racial sensitivity was called into question. He was chastised back in February for referring to slaves as “indentured servants” during an interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning.

“During a recent event at Fort Monroe I spoke about the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia and referred to them in my remarks as enslaved,” he said in a statement at the time. “A historian advised me that the use of indentured was more historically accurate — the fact is, I’m still learning and committed to getting it right.”