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Virginia’s attorney general says he wore blackface at a college party in 1980

Posted: 10:52 AM, Feb 06, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-06 18:05:00Z

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admitted Wednesday that he appeared in blackface at a 1980 party, further plunging Richmond into chaos as Democrats here struggle to overcome a trio of scandals rocking their three top statewide elected officials.

Herring said Wednesday that he wore blackface as a 19-year-old to dress up as a rapper at a party. The admission comes days after the Virginia Democrat called on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after he admitted a racist photo in his medical school yearbook featured him, a charge Northam later denied.

"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," Herring said in a statement. "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."

He added: "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."

The revelation is the latest dramatic chapter in a series of controversies that have rocked the capital, with Northam fending off calls for his resignation over a racist photo that appeared in his medical school yearbook and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denying an allegation of sexual assault against him by a woman he met at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The scandals plaguing the state's three top Democrats could have wide-reaching political ramifications because of the Virginia Constitution's line of succession rules.

If the governor resigns, the lieutenant governor succeeds him. After the lieutenant governor, the attorney general assumes responsibility as governor. It goes on to say that if the attorney general is ineligible, the Speaker of the House of Delegates, if he is eligible, succeeds to the governor's office.

If all three of them resign, Republican Speaker Kirk Cox will become governor. This would flip control of the executive mansion, as Northam, Fairfax, and AG Herring are all Democrats.

Herring initially did not call on Northam to resign. But after Northam held a news conference where he denied appearing in the racist photo on his yearbook page but admitted that he dressed up in blackface at another time, Herring said it was time for the governor to go.

"It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down," Herring said Saturday evening. "I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth."

Herring said Wednesday that wearing blackface was "no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since."

Herring graduated from University of Virginia in 1983 with a degree in foreign affairs and economics. He later got his master from the university in 1986 and graduated from law school at the University of Richmond School of Law in 1990.

Herring, who is in his second term as attorney general, previously served as a state senator representing Loudon and Fairfax counties and as the Loudon County Board of Supervisor.