Gov. Ralph Northam attended his home church on the Eastern Shore on Sunday morning as some of his strongest allies in Virginia’s Democratic Party took their calls for him to resign to the national airwaves.

As demands intensified for him to step down over the discovery of a racist photo on Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, he retreated to his family home near the village of Onancock with his wife, Pam, to reflect on the situation, according to one person who has been in contact with the governor.

On Sunday morning he attended his longtime church, First Baptist Church in Capeville, Virginia, whose pastor – Kelvin Jones – is African-American and had been in Richmond the day before to pray with Northam.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, speaking Saturday from the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond with his wife, Pam, said he felt compelled to apologize after a racist yearbook photo surfaced but now says he is not in it.

Northam initially apologized Friday for the image that appeared on his medical school yearbook page of one person dressed in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe, but reversed himself Saturday and insisted he was not in the photo.

After a nationally televised news conference Saturday in which Northam said he was not in the photo but admitted another incident in which he wore blackface to imitate Michael Jackson, Northam told several supporters privately that he would continue to defend his honor.

But as he worshipped in church Sunday, top Virginia Democrats repeated their assertion that he had broken the public trust and needed to step aside.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who helped Northam win the state’s top office and under whom Northam served as lieutenant governor, said he was “heartbroken” over the discovery of the photo. But he said Northam’s insistence that he was not in the photo was irrelevant.

“It doesn’t matter whether he was in the photo, or not in the photo at this point,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “We have to close that chapter.”

McAuliffe, a possible 2020 presidential contender, also defended Northam, saying he will be remembered for doing some great things, including helping McAuliffe restore the voting rights of Virginians who completed their sentences for felonies – many of whom are African-American.

But McAuliffe said part of Northam’s legacy should be choosing “the right moral course for Virginia” and resigning.

Host Jake Tapper noted the nickname “Coonman” appeared in Northam’s Virginia Military Institute yearbook and cited other examples before asking McAuliffe if Northam is racist.

“I have zero indication of that,” he said.

Yet he strongly rejected any suggestion that blackface was somehow acceptable in a different time and place.

“I knew at a young age, blackface, 1985, you just didn’t do it, it was offensive,” he said.

During Saturday’s news conference, Northam disclosed that he had once applied shoe polish to his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume that he wore when he won a dance competition in 1984.

When a reporter asked Northam if he could still do Jackson’s signature “moonwalk” dance, and it appeared that Northam might demonstrate it in front of dozens of reporters on live television, McAuliffe said he “winced.” Northam’s wife stopped him from doing the move.

“We’re talking about a very, very serious issue,” McAuliffe said. “I agree with the first lady of Virginia. I agree with Pam Northam.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., speaking as a member of Congressional Black Caucus leadership, said there’s nothing Northam can do to convince him to give him more time in office.

“He’s lost the authority to lead,” said McEachin, who served in the Virginia state Senate with Northam. “He’s lost the authority to govern. He has to resign. It’s in the best interest of the commonwealth. It’s in the best interest of the party.”

In his news conference, Northam seemed to suggest that appearing in blackface was an accepted part of the culture in 1984 where he grew up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

McEachin said there was a time when slavery, Jim Crow and the refusal to integregate public schools known as Massive Resistance were commonplace but that doesn’t excuse the atrocities.

“If blackface was commonplace in 1984, that doesn’t make it right,” he said.


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