Virginia Republican embroiled in blackface scandal

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Tommy Norment sits at his desk on the Senate floorImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Senator Tommy Norment was managing editor of a yearbook that contained blackface and racial slurs

Virginia Republicans claimed the moral high ground this week as a blackface scandal left the state's Democratic leadership on the brink of implosion.

But now a racist yearbook has come back to haunt a top Republican.

It has emerged that Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment edited a 1968 college publication containing slurs and blackface photos.

The bombshell comes after Virginia's Republican party said top Democrats had lost the authority to govern.

The uproar has shaken the state capitol in Richmond, which still grapples with its painful past as the capital of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the American Civil War.

Mr Norment, 72, was the managing editor of the Bomb, Virginia Military Institute's yearbook.

The Republican Senate leader denies he is among those pictured in blackface in the publication.

But the yearbook was strewn with slurs against black and Asian students, according to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, which broke the story.

It contained Confederate imagery and at least one instance of the N-word, as well as racist terms referring to a student from Thailand.

Another student was nicknamed the "barracks Jew" for "having his fingers in the finances of the entire corps".

Image source, Courtesy VMI
Image caption,
The 1968 yearbook contained racial slurs and blackface photos

In a letter from the editors section, Mr Norment had written: "Work on the Bomb has permitted me to release four years of inhibitions."

In a statement on Thursday, he distanced himself from the controversial content.

"The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it," said Mr Norment.

"As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry or word on each page.

"However, I am not in any of the photos referenced."

Virginia Military Institute communications director Col Stewart MacInnis told the BBC the school has changed its policies over the past decade to ensure advisers review the yearbook.

But he noted: "This is a self-supporting student publication. There is a tension between institutional oversight and the cadets' First Amendment rights."

Image source, Getty Images

The scandal blew up last Friday when a picture from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's 1984 yearbook page showed someone in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Mr Northam apologised for the photo, then denied he was in the picture, but admitted wearing blackface while mimicking Michael Jackson on a separate occasion that year.

Image source, The Washington Post via Getty Images
Image caption,
Ralph Northam's page in the 1984 yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School

On Wednesday, the state's Attorney General Mark Herring - second-in-line to the governorship - revealed he too once wore "brown makeup" to a party.

Mr Herring had earlier urged the governor to resign over his racism scandal.

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Meanwhile, Virginia's Democratic lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, is facing an allegation of sexual assault that he denies.

Vanessa Tyson, a politics professor, released a statement on Wednesday accusing Mr Fairfax of forcing her to perform a sexual act on him in his hotel room at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston.

Amid public protests in Richmond this week, the Virginia Republican Party issued a statement saying the Democratic elected officials "have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern".

On Thursday, Virginia's two Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with congressional representatives from the state, issued a statement demanding Mr Northam resign.

They said they were "shocked and saddened" by Attorney General Mark Herring's blackface scandal, but did not call on him to stand down.

They also said they were "deeply disturbed" by the allegations against Mr Fairfax.

They said they "respect the right of women to come forward and be heard", but did not say the lieutenant governor should quit either.

If all three Democratic leaders were to resign over these controversies, Virginia could be led by the state's highest-ranking Republican, Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox.

Mr Cox was asked by reporters on Thursday at the state capitol whether he had any racial skeletons in the closet.

"I have never appeared in blackface," Mr Cox, 61, said. "As you know, I was a schoolteacher, and that's abhorrent."

The scandal goes beyond politics.

While the Richmond racism row has provided ample fodder for late-night show hosts, two primetime funnymen have steered curiously clear of the topic.

NBC's Jimmy Fallon and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel have both used blackface for comedy routines in the past.