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Ralph Northam's yearbook page shows man in KKK costume and another apparently in blackface

Va. gov. responds to critics over abortion
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam responds to critics after controversial comments about late-term abortions 02:17

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook page surfaced Friday, containing a photograph of two unidentified men — one appears to be wearing blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. 

The page, which was first reported by the conservative website Big League Politics and then by local newspaper Virginian-Pilot, is from the 1984 East Virginia Medical School yearbook, the year that Northam graduated. 

CBS News uncovered a page from Northam's yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute that had nicknames listed underneath his name. One of them was "Coonman," a racial slur.

Hours after the photo emerged, Northam faced calls to resign from the NAACP, at least four 2020 Democratic hopefuls for president, Planned Parenthood and the Virginia GOP. 

Northam indicated in a video posted to Twitter that he did not plan to resign. He said he has "spent the past year fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people" and he is "committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term."

Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook page WTVR News 3 Brendan Ponton

Northam released a statement earlier Friday afternoon apologizing for the photo, saying, "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."

"This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians' faith in that commitment," Northam said. "I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor."

In the video on Twitter, he said his previous statement fell "far short of the standard you set for me when you elected me to be your governor" and "I believe you deserve to hear directly from me."

"That photo, and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents, does not reflect the person I am today, or the way that I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor, and a public servant," Northam said. "I am deeply sorry. I cannot change the decisions I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today. But I accept responsibility for my past actions, and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust." 

A reporter from CBS News affiliate News 3, Brendan Ponton, went to the Eastern Virginia Medical School library in Norfolk Friday afternoon and found the page on which the photo appears. 

Several political figures have called on Northam to step down, including NAACP President Derrick Johnson and 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Northam's predecessor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, tweeted "it's Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward."

Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association who is set to take over in 2020, called on Northam to resign Friday night on MSNBC. 

"I don't see the governor's got any other choice other than to step aside," Murphy said.  

The image in the yearbook caps off a difficult week for Northam. Earlier this week, he was criticized for comments he made about late-term abortion.

A new bill proposed in the state legislature would loosen restrictions on abortions during the third trimester of pregnancy, and allow abortions during the second trimester to take place outside hospitals. The bill would require only one doctor to make the determination that the pregnancy threatens the woman's life or health. The proposed legislation would also eliminate the requirement that abortions during the second trimester be performed in a state-licensed hospital.

Northam came under fire for comments he made on WTOP radio Wednesday when asked about the bill.

"When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physicians, more than one physician, by the way," Northam said. "And it's done in cases where there any be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that's non-viable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother. So I think this was really blown out of proportion."

At a press conference Thursday, Northam said his words had been misinterpreted.

"We're here to set the record straight. Virginia Democrats are on the side of ensuring women get the health care they need," Northam said. Northam also accused Republicans of being uncivil in their response to the bill. "Virginia Democrats know that we're better than that," he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported which news outlet first published the photo. It was Big League Politics. 

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