Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam Cancels Appearance At Civil Rights Forum
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has decided not to launch his "reconciliation tour" as planned on Thursday morning at Virginia Union University.
The change comes days after the student government president of the historically black university urged the embattled Democratic governor to come another time.
On Wednesday evening, Northam obliged, tweeting out a statement that said, "I appreciate the original invitation of VUU's administration, but I will abide by the students' wishes." He said he accepted the student government's "invitation for future dialogue and honest conversation on issues of race, reconciliation and equity."
While I appreciate @VAUnion1865's invitation to attend tomorrow's chapel service, I respect the wishes of the student body. In lieu of my attendance, I will host the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion on Friday to honor their bravery and courage. pic.twitter.com/qIdX05cvsa— Governor Ralph Northam (@VAGovernor73) February 20, 2019
Northam has kept a low public profile since a racist photo with an individual in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb, appearing on his 1984 medical school yearbook page, came to light earlier this month.
A day after initially saying he was in the photo, Northam then said he wasn't. But he did admit to darkening his face that same year to impersonate pop star Michael Jackson in a dance contest.
Northam has vowed to dedicate the remainder of his time in office to healing and racial reconciliation. He has resisted calls for his resignation.
Attorney General Mark Herring has also admitted wearing blackface in the 1980s while in college. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the man who would succeed Northam should he decide to step down, faces sexual assault allegations from two women. He vehemently denies the allegations.
Like Northam, Herring and Fairfax have said they will remain in office.
But it was the governor's scandal that led Student Government Association President Jamon Phenix to send a letter to Northam's office this week asking him to reschedule for the spring.
Virginia Union administration officials had extended an invitation to Northam to attend Thursday's Faith, Identity and Social Justice forum.
Part of that program was to pay tribute to the Richmond 34, a group of Virginia Union University students who were arrested during a nonviolent sit-in demonstration at a Thalhimers department store protesting its white's-only dining policy in 1960.
Phenix's letter said Northam's presence would cast a cloud over the historical significance of the event.
In his statement, Northam said he admires "the actions the Richmond 34 took to fight segregation," and he added that he would pay his own tribute to them at the governor's mansion later this week.
Northam said, "I look forward to hosting the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion on Friday to honor their bravery and courage. I welcome opportunities to listen, learn and discuss how we can move Virginia forward."