Mark Herring: Top Virginia Democrat admits wearing blackface as state scandal deepens

Chris Riotta

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has confirmed he wore blackface to a college party in 1980, just days after calling on the state’s governor to resign over a similar racial scandal.

Mr Herring apologised for donning blackface in a statement released shortly after the attorney general met with members of Virginia’s legislative black caucus, writing: “Honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general.”

“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,” the statement read. “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,” he added. “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.”

Four days earlier, the attorney general slammed Virginia Governor Ralph Northam after an image from his 1984 yearbook page circulated online showing a man in blackface and another dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, saying “it is no longer possible” for him to remain in office.

Virginia’s executive branch has been mired in controversy in recent weeks following the governor’s blackface controversy and new accusations of sexual assault against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax.

Mr Fairfax was accused earlier this week of sexually assaulting a female victim during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The lieutenant governor — who has denied the allegations — would be Mr Northam’s successor if he decides to step down from his post.

The governor has seemingly fought back against nationwide calls from Democrats to resign. After initially admitting to having been one of the men in the photo from his yearbook page, Mr Northam held a press conference in which he walked back those comments and claimed to have no idea how the photo was featured on his page.

Mr Northam has admit to wearing blackface “as part of a Michael Jackson costume” for a dance competition in the 1980s, but denied having any involvement in the yearbook photo, describing it as “disgusting, offensive” and “racist”.

It remains to be seen whether any of the three politicians will step down in the wake of their scandals. If all three eventually resign, the governor’s seat would then go to Kirk Cox, Virginia’s Republican House Speaker.

“This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct,” Mr Herring’s statement continued. “This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since.”

He added, “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.”