Virginia AG says he wore blackface at college party
Another top Virginia Democrat — Attorney General Mark Herring — admitted Wednesday to putting on blackface in the 1980s, when he was a college student.
Herring issued a statement saying he wore brown makeup and a wig in 1980 to look like a black rapper during a party as a 19-year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
The revelation further roils the top levels of Virginia government. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax are already facing controversies, and Herring would be
to be governor after those two men.
In the statement, Herring said he and two friends dressed up to look like rappers they listened to, including Kurtis Blow.
"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 said.
"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 attorney general issued the statement after rumors of a blackface photo of Herring had circulated at the Capitol for a day or more. But in his statement, he said nothing about the existence of such a photo.
Herring, who plans to run for governor in 2021, is among those who have
as governor after the discovery of a photo of someone in blackface on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. The photo that appeared in Northam's half-page profile shows someone in black face standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.
Fairfax, in line to be governor if Northam were to resign, has been
, which he denies.
Asked if Herring should resign, Democratic state Delegate Delores McQuinn, an African-American, did not answer directly.
"We are going to govern — that's what our constituents want us to do," she said.
In condemning the photo from Northam's yearbook, Herring said last Friday: "The photo, the conduct it captures, and the racist imagery invoked are all indefensible. The photo would be profoundly offensive in any circumstances, but it is also shocking and deeply disappointing to know that it pictures Governor Northam." He called for Northam to step down the next day, saying "it is no longer possible" for him to lead the state.
that he was in the photo without saying which costume he was wearing. A day later,
. But he acknowledged he once used shoe polish to blacken his face and look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in Texas decades ago.
Herring spent most of his life in Northern Virginia's Loudoun County, where he practiced law after earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Virginia and his law degree from the University of Richmond.
He served as a county supervisor and a state senator before getting elected attorney general in 2013 by a mere 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million ballots cast. He won re-election by a more comfortable margin in 2017.
In 2006, as a state senator, he supported a Virginia constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage. But as term as attorney general, Herring made national headlines for his efforts to overturn Virginia's ban on gay marriage.
Shortly after taking office, Herring said he would no longer defend the state in a federal lawsuit that challenged the state's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional.
"It's time for the commonwealth to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law," he said at the time.
A federal judge overturned the state's gay-marriage ban, and cited Herring's opposition to the ban as a "compelling" factor in her decision. Virginia court clerks began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in October 2014, nearly a full year before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling allowing gay marriage nationwide.
Below is the official statement issued by Herring:
Statement from Sean Rankin, Executive Director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association:
Related StoriesProtesters continue calls for resignation; Northam says he needs more time
People in the Valley share opinions on Gov. Northam's yearbook photo
Person upset by abortion stance tipped site to racist photo
Former EVMS yearbook staffer says picture on Northam's page likely not a mistake
Governor scandal hangs over busy day for Virginia government
Turmoil over Northam tests Democrats' zero-tolerance policy
'It is a teachable moment:' A discussion about the history of blackface imagery
Lt. Gov. Fairfax’s accuser consults Washington law firm
Gov. Northam possibly resigning would put Virginia in uncharted territory