Black Leaders, Republicans Protest Governor’s Northern Virginia Visit; Northam Retreats

Nathaniel Cline, Loudoun Times-Mirror, April 15, 2019

Leaders in northern Virginia’s black community remain outraged after Gov. Ralph Northam admitted to wearing blackface decades ago, and their distaste showed at a protest outside of a campaign kickoff event Sunday.

The Fairfax County protest led to Northam canceling a scheduled fundraising visit.

In the two months since the blackface scandal that nearly led to Northam being forced out of office, the Democratic governor has attempted to make amends through numerous apologies, restoring civil rights to more than 10,000 Virginians, signing legislation to establish the African American Advisory Board and vetoing legislation to restrict voting right access.

But Loudoun County and northern Virginia African American leaders haven’t forgotten the picture that appeared in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook — one that featured one person dressed up in a Ku Klux Klan uniform and another wearing blackface. The governor at first apologized for being in the photo, but he then said he does not believe either of the people in the picture are him. Northam did, however, say he wore blackface to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest in the 1980s.

“If you can’t step down, then step up in the way you fight for Medicaid expansion and health care and [the Equal Rights Amendment],” Loudoun County NAACP President Michelle Thomas told the Times-Mirror.

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Protesters from the Fairfax and Loudoun County NAACP branches and the Republican Party of Virginia eclipsed the number of the campaign guests inside the Ponds Community Center event.

“The fact he didn’t show up was a huge win, and I think it shows the power of the people is still with us, and we still have a chance to get him out,” Fairfax County NAACP President Kofi Annan said.

Republican Party of Virginia Executive Director John Findlay added, “I really do believe us and the Fairfax NAACP coming out, protesting this led to him not showing up. We have the best volunteers anywhere. We’re thankful for them dedicating their time. This just shows the passion on our side.”

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Northam’s disapproval rating has more than doubled since December, from 24 percent to 49 percent, according to a recent survey of registered voters by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. Asked if Northam should resign, a majority – 52 percent – said he should stay in office. Still, nearly 30 percent of Democrats said he should resign.

“Just a reminder to anyone thinking about bringing Gov. Northam to Loudoun County for a campaign event: We will be there to remind you and him that there is zero tolerance for racism,” the past Loudoun County NAACP president, Phillip Thompson, said in email to local politicians. “By the way, most of the people who showed up to attend Sen. Marsden’s event were white. First, what does that look like for the Democratic Party? Second, how was the governor going to address racial reconciliation in a room full of white people?”

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“We don’t believe him, and that doesn’t make any sense,” Annan, the Fairfax NAACP president, said. “It’s almost an insult to our intelligence that anyone in their right mind would admit to something like that if they weren’t engaged in that type of behavior. I think the average person would immediately look at the picture with a Klan member and no they weren’t in there, but for him to admit it was him and then obviously we don’t buy the second story at all.”

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“Since he is not going to step down, then we must demand that he step up,” [Loudon County NAACP President Michelle] Thomas said. “Gov. Northam: Step up in your policy making, step up on your stance on African American heritage and education, step up on your support for African American historic preservation, step up in policy for criminal justice reform, for hate crime bills and legislature that will protect all people from being targeted for domestic terrorism.”

Thomas said she, along with a delegation from Loudoun, wants to meet with Northam soon. She hopes the governor will invest in the Loudoun Freedom Center – a relatively new nonprofit that Thomas founded to preserve, protect and promote African American history.

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