Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam was asked to cancel an appearance at a historically black college as part of his “reconciliation tour” after the university’s student government asked him to stay away in a Monday letter.
Northam was set to appear at an event, “Faith, Identity and Social Justice” at Virginia Union University on Thursday, where the Richmond 34 would be commemorated. The Richmond 34 was a group of VUU students who were arrested for protesting segregated lunch counters at a department store in 1960.
“It is our understanding you are seeking to gain atonement from your past actions while simultaneously affirming your constituents that you hold true to your beliefs in leading Virginia forward,” a letter from VUU Student Government Association President Jamon Phenix said.
The letter added that the student body was in support of having an honest conversation surrounding race.
However, they felt that the governor’s presence would take away from the Richmond 34, especially given recent controversy over a picture featuring a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe appearing under Northam’s name in his 1984 medical yearbook.
Northam got further engulfed in a media storm after admitting at a press conference that he darkened his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume.
Phenix wrote that they would like to reschedule Northam’s visit for a date in the Spring.
Northam responded Wednesday, saying he will “abide by the students’ wishes.”
While I appreciate @VAUnion1865‘s invitation to attend tomorrow’s chapel service, I respect the wishes of the student body. In lieu of my attendance, I will host the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion on Friday to honor their bravery and courage. pic.twitter.com/qIdX05cvsa
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) February 20, 2019
VUU students were skeptical about Northam’s scheduled appearance days before Phenix’s letter was sent.
“Personally, I’ll hear what he has to say… but I don’t really care for it, honestly,” VUU senior Rasaan Parker said, NBC 12 reported.
“What he did… it wasn’t right,” VUU student Khari Johnson said.
One Richmond 34 member, however, objected to Phenix’s letter, the Washington Post reported.
“I represent many who extend this invitation to you to come and witness and celebrate this 59th anniversary with us,” Elizabeth Johnson Rice wrote in a separate letter to Northam, according to WaPo. “We also want your presence to be a learning tool for atonement and the need for forgiveness for all of us.”
Rice added that she believed in second chances, though Phenix said VUU students were “upset about his presence here,” WaPo reported.
The Richmond 34 commemoration will feature the city’s mayor Dwight Jones, according to NBC 12.
“I think he has lost the confidence of the people and cannot govern at this point, and the only way for that to happen is for the office to be vacated,” Jones said, NBC 12 reported.
It is unclear how many schools Northam would visit on the tour.
Several prominent Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called on Northam to resign following the controversial picture resurfacing.
Northam’s office did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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