RICHMOND, Va. — The Republican Party of Virginia said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring should resign after he said he wore blackface in 1980.
Herring released a statement Wednesday apologizing for using makeup and a wig to look like a black rapper for a party he attended as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
Herring's announcement came after a picture of someone dressed in blackface appeared on the 1984 EVMS yearbook page of Governor Ralph Northam. Somebody also appeared in the photo dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Northam initially apologized for appearing in the picture. He later said he was not one of the people in the photo. He did, however, acknowledge that he wore blackface at another time when he dressed up as pop superstar Michael Jackson.
Despite continued calls for Northam to resign, including from Herring, he indicated he will not step down as governor.
Jack Wilson, Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in his statement calling for Herring's resignation:
The Republican Party of Virginia calls on Mark Herring to resign his post as Attorney General. Like we have had to say too many times this week, racism has no place in Virginia and dressing up in blackface is wholly unacceptable.
In response to the photograph in Governor Ralph Northam’s yearbook, Herring, in calling for the Governor’s resignation, said, "It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down."
In Herring's own statement, he said "It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then."
As we renew our call for Governor Northam's resignation, we must regretfully add Mark Herring's name to the list of Democratic elected officials that have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern.
Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox issued his own call for Herring to step down. Cox tweeted a statement he prepared.
Here is Herring's full statement regarding his wearing of blackface:
The very bright light that is shining on Virginia right now is sparking a painful but, I think we all hope, important conversation. The stakes are high, and our spirits are low.
I am sure we all have done things at one time or another in our lives that show poor judgment, and worse yet, have caused some level of pain to others. I have a glaring example from my past that I have thought about with deep regret in the many years since, and certainly each time I took a step forward in public service, realizing that my goals and this memory could someday collide and cause pain for people I care about, those who stood with me in the many years since, or those who I hoped to serve while in office.
In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song. It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.
This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct.
That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.
Although the shame of that moment has haunted me for decades, and though my disclosure of it now pains me immensely, what I am feeling in no way compares to the betrayal, the shock, and the deep pain that Virginians of color may be feeling. Where they have deserved to feel heard, respected, understood, and honestly represented, I fear my actions have contributed to them being forced to revisit and feel a historical pain that has never been allowed to become history.
This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since.
As a senator and as attorney general, I have felt an obligation to not just acknowledge but work affirmatively to address the racial inequities and systemic racism that we know exist in our criminal justice system, in our election processes, and in other institutions of power. I have long supported efforts to empower communities of color by fighting for access to healthcare, making it easier and simpler to vote, and twice defended the historic re-enfranchisement of former felons before the Supreme Court of Virginia. I have launched efforts to make our criminal justice system more just, fair, and equal by addressing implicit bias in law enforcement, establishing Virginia’s first-ever program to improve re-entry programs in local jails, and pushing efforts to reform the use of cash bail. And I have tried to combat the rise in hate crimes and white supremacist violence that is plaguing our Commonwealth and our country.
That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt. Forgiveness in instances like these is a complicated process, one that necessarily cannot and should not be decided by anyone but those directly affected by the transgressor, should forgiveness be possible or appropriate at all. In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation."
The situation with Herring added to what already was a rough week for top Democrats in Virginia.
After the racist photo on Northam's EVMS yearbook page surfaced, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax found himself in the middle of his own controversy. Word of an allegation of sexual assault from 2004 came out. Fairfax said there was no truth to the allegation. He issued a statement about the accusation on Wednesday around the same time as Herring put out his statement.
Herring would be next in line to be governor after Northam and Fairfax.
Delegate Lamont Bagby who is Chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said its members needed time to process the revelation that another top state Democrat put on blackface years ago.
Democratic Delegate Delores McQuinn didn't answer directly when asked if Herring should resign. The African-American lawmaker said legislators "are going to govern - that's what our constituents want us to do."
Lizzie Ulmer, Communicators Director for the Democratic Attorneys General Association, said Herring offered to step aside as co-chairman, and the committee accepted. District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine will step back in as co-chaimain for an interim period to lead alongside current co-chairwoman Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, A. Donald McEachin, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spencer and Jennifer Wexton released the following statement Thursday:
“Like other Virginians, we have been devastated by these horrible developments. We are brokenhearted that the actions of Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring have reopened old wounds left by Virginia’s long history of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and systemic racism. There’s no question that Virginians’ faith in their government and leaders has understandably been deeply shaken.
“We have each publicly called for Governor Northam to resign.
“Yesterday, we were shocked and saddened to learn of the incident in the Attorney General’s past. The Attorney General has earnestly reached out to each of us to apologize and express his deep remorse. We understand that he is currently engaged in in-depth discussions with leaders and others in Virginia. The Attorney General must continue those conversations, and stand ready to answer questions from the public if he is to regain their trust.
“We are deeply disturbed by the account detailing the alleged actions of Lieutenant Governor Fairfax. We believe these allegations need to be taken very seriously, and we respect the right of women to come forward and be heard.
“We will continue in dialogue with one another and our constituents in the coming days, and evaluate additional information as it comes to light.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.