Nearly 60 percent of Virginia's African-Americans want Gov. Northam to remain in office: poll

Nearly 60 percent of African-Americans in Virginia want Gov. Ralph Northam to remain in office despite the recent scandal surrounding a racist photo on the Democrat's 1984 medical school yearbook page, according to a poll released Saturday.

The Washington Post-Schar School poll, conducted Wednesday through Friday, found Virginia's broader population to be split evenly about Northam’s fate, with 47 percent wanting him to stay and the same percentage wanting him to resign.

African-Americans, however, prefer that the Democrat remain in office, 58 percent to 37 percent. Whites are more evenly divided.

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The poll also found that 11 percent of Virginia residents have either worn blackface or known someone who has. Northam has denied that he is one of two men shown on his yearbook page, backtracking an earlier admission. The photo shows one person in blackface and the other dressed in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

“Initially, I could have forgiven him, and I think he could have gotten past it. It was something that was 35 years ago,” David Hughes, an African-American sheriff's deputy in Newport News, told the Post. “What really bothered me was the change in story.”

Hughes, 54, thinks the governor should resign.

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Louise Butler, 76, of Richmond, grew up during segregation and was bothered by the Klan costume, which she said brought back memories of violence and discrimination directed at African-Americans before the Civil Rights Movement.

She told the paper she believed Northam was committed to racial equality despite whatever views he may have held in 1984.

This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. (Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP)

This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. (Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP)

“He’s been a good governor, and he’s been good, as far as I know, to black people,” Butler said.

In an interview Saturday, Northam said he wants to heal the wounds that some feel after the racist photo emerged.

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"There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity. ... There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entre­pre­neur­ship," he said. "And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”

Other results from the poll revealed about a third of Virginians think Attorney General Mark Herring should resign after he admitted to wearing blackface at a party in college. Most residents are still undecided – 65 percent – on the future of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is accused of sexual assault by two women. Fairfax denies the accusations.

Respondents were not asked about the second allegation against him, that was made public Friday after the poll began.