HAMPTON, Va. (WSET) -- A photo spread of Governor Ralph Northam is going viral due to one controversial photo.
Gov. Northam issued a statement around 6 p.m. acknowledging he was in the photo, but didn't confirm which costume he was wearing.
"Earlier [Friday], a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive.
I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.
This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.
I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor."
The photo, obtained by WVEC, from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library, shows two men, one in blackface and one in a KKK robe and hood, on the same page as several pictures of the governor.
Northam's 1984 yearbook spread has four photos: one a head shot of the governor with a jacket and tie, a photo of him in cowboy boots and hat, and a third of him sitting on the ground against a car.
The fourth photo on the page shows two men, one in black face and one in a KKK robe.
The person in black face is also seen with a white hat, black jacket, white shirt, and bow tie with plaid pants and both are holding canned drinks.
"I can confirm that the picture in question does appear in a 1984 student-produced publication," said Jennifer McCarrall, the Director of Marketing and Communications at Eastern Virginia Medical School. "The EVMS library is open to the public and does provide access to its materials."
Under the controversial photo lists Northam's alma mater, Virginia Military Insitute, and his interests "Pediatrics", with a quote that says "There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer."
A Conservative news outlet, Big League Politics, first posted the photo on Twitter around 2:15 p.m. Friday, followed by the Virginia GOP caucus asking the Governor to explain.
Then critics turned to his VMI yearbook, which is digitally archived. It lists Gov. Northam's nickname as "Goose, Coonman."
The Republican Party of Virginia also released a statement saying Gov. Northam should resign.
"Racism has no place in Virginia," said RPV Chairman Jack Wilson. "These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately."
General Assembly leaders, including House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover), also released a statement calling the photo disturbing and offensive.
"This is a deeply disturbing and offensive photograph in need of an immediate explanation by the Governor."
Representative Denver Riggleman, currently in Washington representing the 5th District, responded on Twitter saying the photos "hit a nerve."
"As a Virginian & Rep. of Charlottesville, @GovernorVA yearbook photos hit more than a nerve. This Virginian demands an explanation. Now. Issues of racial discrimination cannot be taken lightly & this type of behavior is dangerous & unacceptable in any form."
Sen. Bryce Reeves, who represents Virginia's 17th District, issues a statement saying if the photo is true, Gov. Northam should resign.
"I hope that this picture is inaccurate and that the Governor brings clarity to this issue. This has no place in Virginia. If this is true, he should resign immediately."
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) defended Gov. Northam to the Washington Post.
"His whole life has been about exactly the opposite and that’s what you need to examine, not something that occurred 30 years ago. While it’s in very poor taste, I would think no one in the General Assembly who would like their college conduct examined. I would hate to have to go back and examine my two years in the Army. Trust me. I was 18 years old and I was a handful, OK? His life since then has been anything but. It’s been a life of helping people, and many times for free."
The photo comes to light after a week in which Gov. Northam was in the spotlight for his comments about a bill that would have loosened restrictions on late-term abortions in Virginia.
He has not issued any statement on the yearbook page.
Northam was elected to the Virginia Senate in 2007, was re-elected to the Senate in 2011, elected lieutenant governor in 2013 under former Governor Terry McAuliffe, and then was elected Governor of Virginia in 2017.