Virginia AG Mark Herring Admits He Wore Black Face, Too--Four Days After Calling on Northam to Resign

By Melanie Arter | February 6, 2019 | 1:10pm EST
Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam on stage with, from left to right, Va. Gov. Terry McAulliffe, Lt. Gov.-elect Justin Fairfax, Atty. Gen.-elect Mark Herring and Sen. Mark Warner, at an election night rally, Nov. 7, 2017. (Getty Images/Win McNamee)

( - Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admitted in a written statement on Wednesday that he wore blackface at a party at the University of Virginia in 1980.

Herring is the second in line after Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam should Northam resign his office. Currently, Northam is resisting calls that he resign after he admitted to wearing blackface while he was in medical school in the 1980s.

Ironically, on Saturday, Herring had issued a statement calling on Northam to step down as governor--a day after news reports showed a page from Northam's medical school yearbook page that had a photo of two men, one of whom was wearing blackface and the other of whom was wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

"It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down," Herring said in that statement. "I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth."

In the statement he released today about wearing black face himself, Herring said he did it when he was in college.

“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,” Herring said in a statement released on his website.

“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. 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,” the attorney general said.

Herring said it was “a onetime occurrence” and he fully accepts responsibility for his conduct.

“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then,” he said.

Herring said his shame over that decision has haunted him for decades and his disclosure pains him “immensely,” but it “in no way compares to the betrayal, the shock, and the deep pain that Virginians of color may be feeling.”

The attorney general said his “conduct” does not reflect the man he has become “in the nearly 40 years since.” He then went into detail about the ways he has worked to address “racial inequities and systemic racism” throughout his career as a senator and attorney general.

“As a senator and as attorney general, I have felt an obligation to not just acknowledge but work affirmatively to address the racial inequities and systemic racism that we know exist in our criminal justice system, in our election processes, and in other institutions of power,” Herring said.

“I have long supported efforts to empower communities of color by fighting for access to healthcare, making it easier and simpler to vote, and twice defended the historic re-enfranchisement of former felons before the Supreme Court of Virginia,” he said.

“I have launched efforts to make our criminal justice system more just, fair, and equal by addressing implicit bias in law enforcement, establishing Virginia’s first-ever program to improve re-entry programs in local jails, and pushing efforts to reform the use of cash bail. And I have tried to combat the rise in hate crimes and white supremacist violence that is plaguing our Commonwealth and our country,” Herring added.

"That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt. Forgiveness in instances like these is a complicated process, one that necessarily cannot and should not be decided by anyone but those directly affected by the transgressor, should forgiveness be possible or appropriate at all,” the attorney general said.

Herring did not say he would step down as attorney general – only that he would have “honest conversations and discussions” on whether or not he can continue to serve in his position.

“In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom,” he said.

In contrast, Herring called on Northam to step down for wearing blackface.

"It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth,” Herring said in a statement on his website on Saturday.


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