Hundreds expected for march urging Northam to resign

Hundreds expected for march urging Northam to resign

By Kal Weinstein

Capital News Service

RICHMOND - Two groups have organized a march Saturday to call for the resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook and for his comments concerning late-term abortions.

Buses will shuttle in people from all over Virginia for the “March on the Mansion,” organized by the Douglass Leadership Institute and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The groups want to an “end to racism, and infanticide and a return to values of Dr. Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass.”

They have called on Virginians of all races, religions and political beliefs to join a “unity rally and march for righteousness and justice.”

Saturday’s March on the Mansion is unusual in that it combines the concerns over abortion and race into one protest.

A photo published worldwide from Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page showed a person in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially apologized for the photograph and then denied he was in the picture. He later admitted to putting shoe polish on his face for a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984.

The picture was published days after the governor made national headlines for his support of a bill to relax restrictions on late-term abortions.

Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page.
Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page. ((Source: Eastern Virginia Medical School via CNN))

On a radio program, Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said third-trimester abortions are done when a fetus has severe deformities or is non-viable. In such cases, Northam said, “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.”

That comment drew a backlash from abortion opponents. They accused Northam of advocating infanticide.

After the yearbook photo surfaced, there was a flurry of calls for Northam’s resignation — from both Democratic and Republican leaders — but the governor resisted and promised “to lead Virginia forward.”

Demonstrators will gather on the steps of the Virginia Capitol at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and then march to the governor’s home at the Executive Mansion. Speakers at the march will include the Rev. Dean Nelson, chairman of the Douglass Leadership Institute, and the Rev. William Keen, president of the Virginia chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Andrew Shannon, the chapter’s vice president, said the march will reiterate the values of Martin Luther King Jr., who founded the SCLC in 1957.

Protesters continued to gather Monday morning outside the Governor's Mansion. (Source: NBC12)
Protesters continued to gather Monday morning outside the Governor's Mansion. (Source: NBC12)

“We were easily able to bring these two leaders together based on their beliefs in the importance of life,” Shannon said.

“We also think it’s important for people to understand the long history of people using blackface as a stereotype to portray negative images of African Americans.”

Shannon anticipates hundreds of people from throughout the state will attend the march, with buses available for passengers from the Suffolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Danville, Pittsylvania County and Halifax.

Nelson said that if Northam emerges from his home to greet the protesters on Saturday, they would pray for him and ask him to step down.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.