The Eastern Virginia Medical School “could not conclusively determine” if Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is indeed one of the individuals shown in a racist photo on his 1984 yearbook page, independent investigators announced Wednesday.
A much-anticipated, 55-page report delivered little that wasn’t already known about the photo, which depicts a man in blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. However, it did provide new information about the culture at the medical school at the time. The results come three months after Northam admitted in a statement that he was one of the two individuals photographed, calling it “clearly racist and offensive.”
“We could not conclusively determine the identity of either individual depicted in the photograph,” the report says, adding that it found “no information that the photograph was placed on [Northam’s] personal page in error” and could not “conclusively determine the origin of the photograph.”
While investigators did note Northam’s “inconsistent public statements” about his participation in the photo, they said they could not find anyone to determine who the people are in the image on the governor’s yearbook personal page. As previously reported by The Daily Beast, the page also lists Northam’s undergrad alma mater (Virginia Military Institute), his interest (“Pediatrics”), and his senior quote (“There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer”).
“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.
They added that technical help was no more conclusive in determining who the person was in the photo. According to the investigators, “We also received a forensic facial recognition report from Alston & Bird. This report, conducted by a reputable vendor, found the image of the photograph was not of sufficient quality to conduct a comparison with other photographs.”
The probe’s findings come more than three months after the yearbook page surfaced online on a conservative news site—spurring calls for Northam’s resignation and starting a domino effect that embroiled many other top Virginia Democrats in separate scandals.
Northam, a first-time Democratic candidate and pediatric neurologist, took office in January 2019. One month into his term, on the day the story broke, he admitted in a statement that he was in the photo and apologized.
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision cost then and now,” he said at the time. “This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today… I recognize it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused.”
Days later, in a CBS News interview, Northam backtracked, denying it was him in the picture after he said he “had a chance to step back” and study the yearbook page.
“I overreacted,” he said. “If I had it to do over, I would step back and take a deep breath.”
Northam, however, has admitted to “darkening his face” with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson for a school dance competition in 1984. The competition was not mentioned in Wednesday’s report.
“I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook,” Northam said in a statement following the report’s release, adding that he fully cooperated. “That being said, I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have cased hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry.”
The Democrat added that initially he felt “it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page” but instead of providing answers, Northam acknowledged he only “deepened pain and confusion.”