Row deepens as Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wore blackface at a costume party in 1980, he admitted amid spate of scandals.

    Attorney General Mark Herring speaks at a Virginia Democratic Party annual fundraiser in 2015 [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
    Attorney General Mark Herring speaks at a Virginia Democratic Party annual fundraiser in 2015 [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

    Attorney General Mark Herring of the US state of Virginia wore blackface at a college costume party in 1980, he said in a statement Wednesday as the crisis sparked by a racist photograph on the governor's medical yearbook page spread through the state's leadership.

    With both Governor Ralph Northam and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax contending with political scandals of their own, Herring was facing increasing scrutiny as the second in the line of succession to the state's leadership.

    Herring said he now realised he showed poor judgment and caused pain to others by dressing as a rapper, donning a wig and brown makeup to perform a song with similarly attired friends.

    "I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behaviour could inflict on others," Herring said in his statement. "It was really a minimisation of both people of colour and a minimisation of a horrific history I knew well even then."


    Herring's admission follows a chorus of calls for Northam to resign over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, depicting a person in blackface makeup standing beside another person garbed in the white robes of the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

    Sexual assault allegation

    Northam, who is white, initially apologised and conceded he was in the photo.

    But he changed his story a day later, saying neither figure in the picture was him and acknowledging he had dressed in blackface once before to portray pop star Michael Jackson.

    The origins of blackface date to 19th-century "minstrel" shows in which white performers covered their faces in black grease paint to caricature slaves.

    Meanwhile, Northam's political heir apparent, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, 39, confronted a potential scandal of his own.

    Fairfax on Monday denied a sexual assault allegation that was reported against him on the same website that first disclosed the Northam yearbook photo

    The far-right Big League Politics site posted a private Facebook message on Sunday, purportedly obtained from the accuser with her permission by a friend, suggesting that Fairfax had assaulted her during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

    Blackface controversies

    Blackface controversies have brought down several politicians and commentators in recent years.

    Florida's Republican secretary of state, Michael Ertel, resigned on January 24 after the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper published photos from a Halloween party 14 years earlier showing him in blackface, wearing a T-shirt with the words: "Katrina Victim".

    The shirt's text referenced the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005, disproportionately displacing and affecting communities of colour.

    Ertel apologised in a Facebook post on Sunday, according to media reports.


    Television anchor Megyn Kelly left her NBC morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, in October after making on-air remarks defending blackface as part of Halloween costumes.

    Kelly apologised the next day, but her show was cancelled following her comments.

    And an Illinois mayor, Hal Patton of Edwardsville, was running for the state Senate in 2018 when the Belleville News-Democrat newspaper published a photo of him in blackface at a Halloween party a decade earlier.

    Patton, who admitted in a statement to local media that the photo was of him dressed as a rapper, lost the race.

    SOURCE: News agencies