Estimated 6,500 rally against abortion at Virginia state Capitol

A large crowd listens to speakers during the Virginia March for Life rally Wednesday at the state Capitol.

Yellow balloons bearing the word “life” and chants opposing abortion rose above the state Capitol Wednesday as lawmakers convened inside to finish the year’s legislative work.

A crowd that Capitol Police estimated at 6,500 demonstrators descended on Capitol Square from across the state to protest failed legislation to eliminate some restrictions on late-term abortions and Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent comments on that proposal.

Wednesday’s event, the largest anti-abortion demonstration at the state Capitol in recent memory, was affiliated with the national March for Life, an annual event that has for years drawn thousands of protesters to the national mall in Washington.

The Virginia March for Life was the first of its kind, according to its organizers: the Family Foundation, the Virginia Catholic Conference and the Virginia Society for Human Life.

“We need you all to commit to this year-round,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the national March for Life.

A few dozen lawmakers — members of the House and Senate Republican caucuses — made an appearance before the crowd, drawing loud thank yous from demonstrators.

“There’s not a more important issue that I’ve deal with in my career in the legislature than life,” House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, told the crowd in brief remarks.

“A child that is unborn is off limits to the governor and everyone else,” Newman said. “I hope this becomes an annual event.”

Legislators are back in Richmond for the annual one-day session in which they take up the governor’s vetoes and proposed amendments to bills.

Earlier Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers, abortion patients and reproductive rights advocates held an event titled “Speak Out for Abortion Access.” Catholics for Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and other groups participated in that event, according to organizers, who estimated that 60 people attended.

Melissa Ohden, a survivor of saline infusion abortion, speaks as delegates stand behind her during the Virginia March for Life rally at the Capitol Wednesday, April 3, 2019.
People listen to speakers during the Virginia March for Life rally at the Capitol Wednesday, April 3, 2019.
People bow their heads in prayer at…

From Scandal to Opportunity: Virginia’s Political Turmoil

February has been a hellish month for my home state of Virginia. The state has been hit with a storm of scandals that have rocked the political hierarchy. First, there was the revelation that Governor Ralph Northam had worn blackface in the past when a photo surfaced from his medical yearbook. He offered an apology but then came a reversal, as Northam ignored calls for his resignation. Another admittance of blackface followed suit by a different top state leader — Attorney General Mark Herring. And on top of all this, Lieutenant Governor Justin E. Fairfax, Northam’s designated successor, faced two allegations of past sexual assault during the same week. (The Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General rank in the top five most powerful leaders in the Virginia state government — all three positions are currently held by Democrats clouded in scandal). While the sexual assault allegations add to the ongoing conversation during this #MeToo era, the blackface confessions have reignited conversations about racism we thought we no longer needed. All of this happened during African-American history month. Virginia is not doing well.

An Inescapable History

The magnitude of the state’s systemic history of racism and mistreatment of African-Americans cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs. It is a shameful and ongoing story stained with centuries of slavery, slews of Jim Crow laws and the 2017 white nationalist rally that turned deadly. The remnants are there: I often drive on what was, until recently, known as Jefferson Davis Highway or spot Confederate flags around me. On the capital’s main road, Monument Avenue, enormous statues of Confederate soldiers cast haunting shadows down at passersby, reminding them of a not-so-distant past.

Yet my state has come a long way, and it is one I am proud to call home. Virginia regards itself as a political outlier in the South and a vessel of change of which Ralph Northam has often been the captain. College Democrats member Jacob Maguire ’21 noted the commendable shift in Virginia politics in the past 10 years, citing the three Democratic women who were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives this year as evidence of Virginia’s growing progressivism. The state supported Barack Obama twice and Hillary Clinton for president and elected America’s first ever elected black governor in 1985.

Virginia runs through my blood. Both of my parents attended the University of Virginia, my siblings went to college in-state and my sister’s boyfriend is a student at the medical school Northam attended. This progressive yet historic place raised me — it is where I caught lighting bugs and relished snow days, visited presidents’ estates and waited for Septembers to come. Our state motto is “Virginia is for Lovers,” an ethos sadly incongruent with hateful acts like Northam’s. As Virginia faces intense scrutiny for a dismal past, I find myself reexamining my perception of the state as a progressive-minded “New South” haven. But in all this darkness I am desperately searching for some tint of light. Ergo, I seek to find a silver lining from these heartbreaking headlines from Virginia.

What is Blackface?

Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used by performers, often white, to represent a caricature of an African American. In 2019 (as well as in 1984 when Northam acknowledges donning blackface for a Michael Jackson costume), society largely understands that blackface is unambiguously racist. For most, however, this is where our knowledge ceases. The offence is often tucked away, better kept where we do not have to see its blatant racial ugliness. It is usually not in our textbooks; rarely do students learn much about it in schools. But if any good can come out of Virginia’s current disaster, it will be a recognition and increased education about blackface and its existence in the past and present. As we condemn Northam and Herring for racism, it is important we do justice to our testimony and educate ourselves about the practice and why it is such a painful mark on African American history.

Blackface minstrelsy emerged in the United States in the 1830s and quickly became a popular form of entertainment in the country during the 19th century. The theatrical form was central to “how white Americans came into their own identity and worked through what it means to be white,” explained Kellen Hoxworth, a postdoctoral fellow in theater at Dartmouth. Hoxworth researches the history of blackface and his current book project, entitled “Transoceanic Blackface: Empire, Race, and Performance,” traces the formation of blackface…

Timeline of turmoil: How Virginia’s ongoing political scandals developed

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for Virginia with the commonwealth’s top three officials embroiled each embroiled in separate scandals.

Here is a minute-by-minute timeline of the political controversies that have put the commonwealth in the national spotlight.

Gov. Ralph Northam defends proposed bill loosening restrictions on abortion in an interview with WTOP and says, “It’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s non-viable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

5:15 p.m. – Republican General Assembly leaders call on Northam to provide an “immediate explanation.” Over the next hour, the call is echoed by other political leaders.

~ 6 p.m. – A photo from a 1981 VMI yearbook with Northam’s nickname listed as “Coonman” begins to circulate on social media.

10:56 p.m. – Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said it met with Northam and calls on his resignation saying, “it is clear he can no longer effectively serve as governor.”

2:29 p.m. – Capitol Police say two people were arrested outside the Governor’s Mansion earlier in the day.

2:45 p.m. – Northam says, “I darkened my face” while participating in a dance contest for which he learned to moonwalk to portray Michael Jackson.


Who is Justin Fairfax? The descendant of slaves is next in line for Virginia governor

WASHINGTON — As Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam resisted calls to resign over a racist photo that appeared under his name in his medical school year book, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax remains in the wings as the man who would replace him if Northam were to step down.

Northam denied on Saturday that he was either person in a photograph that showed one person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe. The governor said he had “darkened’ his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume in 1984, however.

While Northam apologized and asked for forgiveness on Saturday, he also noted that he maintained a good relationship with Fairfax, who would be America’s fifth-ever black governor were he to take Northam’s place.

“Justin and I have a very, very close relationship,” Northam said at the press conference Saturday. “He has been very supportive … he is a wonderful person.”

On Saturday, Fairfax released a statement saying he was “shocked and saddened” by the images that appeared in Northam’s yearbook.

“The Governor needed to apologize, and I am glad that he did so,” Fairfax said. “He also reached out to me personally to express his sincere regrets and to apologize.”

He added that the two have worked closely for many years. “He has been a friend to me and has treated my family and me with hospitality and respect,” Fairfax said.

Fairfax said despite Northam’s career of service to American children, soldiers and constituents, he could not condone the governor’s actions from his past.

“Now more than ever, we must make decisions in the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he concluded.

Fairfax, 39, was only the second African-American elected statewide in Virginia when he won the post alongside Northam in 2017.

The Duke and Columbia-educated lawyer has been a rising star in the party since making his first run for office 2013, after serving as a federal prosecutor in the high-profile Eastern District of Virginia.

Fairfax lost that first campaign for attorney general in a Democratic primary, but…

Virginia’s current turmoil is state’s chance to reconcile with its racist past

A monument to Confederate general Robert E Lee is adorned with an anti-hate sign.

It’s 400 years since the ship carrying the first African slaves to America docked on the coast of Virginia, beginning a process that would see millions of black people forced into servitude.

The state has spent the better part of a decade planning for 2019 to be a solemn remembrance, with a series of exhibitions and ceremonies aimed at recognizing that dark past, and looking to a more inclusive future.

But in the space of a week all that endeavor has been forced into the background, with Virginia’s leaders instead seemingly engaged in a bid to singlehandedly revive the art of blackface.

Ralph Northam, Virginia’s governor, kicked things off when he admitted to being in a college yearbook photo that showed a man in blackface next to a man in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. As Virginia, and soon the nation, reeled from that revelation, Northam then denied he was in the image, but said he had indeed worn blackface in the past, to impersonate Michael Jackson during a dance competition.

As the governor clung on, the state’s attorney general Mark Herring, the man third in line to replace Northam should he have to quit, confessed to his own dalliances with blackface. Herring said he had worn “dark makeup” while dressing as the rapper Kurtis Blow.

Sandwiched in-between those incidents, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, was accused of sexually assaulting a female academic in 2004. And on Friday, a second woman came forward accusing Fairfax of rape while the two were students at Duke University in 2000.

As much of the nation has looked on in horror, all three men have refused to resign. Many have been stunned by the efforts of Northam and Herring to attempt to place into context their blackface makeup shenanigans. Both have cited their age at the time – Northam was 25, Herring was 19 – and that the incidents occurred in the 1980s, as providing some sort of reasonable explanation. But others have pointed out that 25 years old is not that young, and 1980 was not that long ago.

Still, for all the surprise outside, and inside, the state, many say they are not shocked.

“For me the scariest part is – and this has been said in the black community for decades – what happened this past week was that things we know exist came to the surface,” said Francesca Leigh-Davis, who co-hosts the RVA Dirt local politics radio show in Richmond, the Virginia state capital.

Jessee Perry, co-host of RVA Dirt Girls, helped organize the demonstration to demand Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign.
Jessee Perry, co-host of RVA Dirt Girls, helped organize the demonstration to demand Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign. Photograph: Jay Paul/Reuters

Leigh-Davis and her RVA Dirt co-hosts, Melissa Vaughn and Jessee Perry, organized a demonstration outside the governor’s mansion. Scores of people held signs and chanted “Northam has got to go” as the governor held a news conference inside – where he told reporters about his shoe-polish-assisted Michael Jackson impression.

Northam hasn’t been seen in public since. He has resisted calls from Democrats, including the Virginia legislative black caucus and candidates for the White House, to resign, and has hired a crisis communications firm.

To the outsider, Virginia has been moving left politically over the past decade, to the extent that some have mused whether the state, which brushes up against Washington, DC, in the north-east, should even still be considered part of ‘The South’, in the parlance of the US civil war.

The state elected Douglas Wilder, the first African American to serve as governor in the US since reconstruction, in 1989. More recently, Virginia voted for Barack Obama in 2008 – the first time the state had pledged for a Democrat in the White House in more than 40 years, and backed Obama again in 2012. In 2016 Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 5% in the state.

But Cornell Brooks, a Virginia resident and former president of the NAACP, and a…

“RISE” calls for an emergency meeting to discuss racism in politics

WAYNESBORO, Va. (WHSV) — On Friday, the RISE organization called for an emergency meeting at the Waynesboro Democratic Headquarters to discuss racism in politics.

The meeting was called in response to a racist picture found on Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page and Attorney General Mark Herring admitting to wearing blackface earlier this week.

Chanda McGuffin, Co-founder of RISE, said the conversation was long overdue.

“RISE’s mission is to give a voice to the black community, so how can we remain silent?” said McGuffin. “This conversation is difficult, but it’s important.”

While the discussion was ignited by the actions of state leaders, McGuffin said the frustration has trickled…

Virginia’s Racist History Clashes With New South Image

Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

RICHMOND, Va. — L. Douglas Wilder, a grandson of slaves, became America’s first elected black governor 30 years ago, winning in Virginia in part by finessing the racist history of the state that is now roiling its politics once more.

To succeed as a black candidate in 1989, Mr. Wilder had to patiently accommodate the one-time segregationist Democrats and the state’s Lost Cause Confederate heritage. He had to win over some of the foes who had defeated his attempt to establish a state holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had to appear in proximity to the Confederate monuments that dot courthouse lawns and Civil War battlefields across Virginia without raising a whisper.

In the end, Mr. Wilder won by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote — far closer than polls indicated he would. His white Democratic running mate, tellingly, won by a far greater margin. Still, as John Warner, the former Republican senator of Virginia, put it recently, “It was a monumental chapter not just in Virginia history but in American history.”

That state history on race and politics is now under intense scrutiny. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, are facing calls to resign for wearing blackface in separate incidents as young men. The most powerful Republican state senator, Thomas K. Norment Jr., is defending himself for his role decades ago editing a college yearbook that contained racist photos and slurs. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax, the state’s second black politician to win statewide office, is facing two allegations of sexual assault that has imperiled his job and likely extinguished his hopes to be someday be elected Virginia’s second black governor.

The revelations of not-so-long-ago racist behavior by top leaders, which turned the Capitol into a veritable soundstage for a mind-bending political thriller over the last week, are testing the state’s image as a progressive-minded, New South beacon that backed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for president.

[Make sense of the people, issues and ideas shaping American politics with our newsletter.]

With the political crisis showing few signs of abating — Virginia’s Democratic congressional delegation renewed calls Thursday night for Mr. Northam to resign — the major question is how willing Virginia’s leaders and voters are to punish the transgressions of a younger Mr. Northam and Mr. Herring for behavior from a less-enlightened era before Mr. Wilder’s election.

“We’re going to have to have a greater understanding all-around of what Virginia was like, and I’m not sure today’s standards should go back 30 to 40 years ago, when people were in college,” said Jerry Kilgore, a former state attorney general.

In truth, the firestorm over blackface photos is only the latest example of Virginia suffering humiliations over racism that cause pain to its residents and tarnish its well-burnished reputation. The state’s ample self-regard has suffered blow after blow, in part because of its unwillingness to fully reckon with a past that, while not as violent toward its black citizens, was no less ugly than its Deep South brethren.

In 2006, then-Senator George F. Allen, a Republican, stumbled into the national spotlight by pointing a finger at an Indian-American Democrat videotaping his campaign appearance and referring to the tracker as “macaca,” a slur for dark-skinned Africans.

In 2017, a simmering local clash in Charlottesville over the city’s Robert E. Lee statue became a worldwide story when a white supremacist rally turned deadly. A year later, for their 2018 nominee for Senate, Republicans backed Corey Stewart, a county official who ran an even balder version of President Trump’s campaign, targeting immigrants and vowing to protect Virginia’s emblems of the Confederacy. (This is to say nothing of the squalid scandal involving the last Republican governor, Robert F. McDonnell, whose term ended in disgrace after he was found to have taken more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from an access-seeking Richmond dietary…

Locals react to Virginia politics controversies

WISE, Va. (WYMT) – Several political scandals hit top Virginia politicians in recent weeks.

“I think it hurts the reputation of the Commonwealth,” said UVa-Wise Political Science Professor Eric Drummond Smith.

It started when a photo surfaced, allegedly showing governor Ralph Northam wearing black face

“I think this is nasty and unpleasant but I think it is part of the necessary growing pains to become a more enlightened society,” said Smith.

Attorney General Mark Herring faces backlash for wearing blackface.
Lieutenant Governor Justin…

Eastern Virginia Medical School remarks on Northam’s yearbook photos

Eastern Virginia Medical School remarks on Northam's yearbook photos

Eastern Virginia Medial School holds a news conference to discuss the investigation into Governor Ralph Northam’s unacceptable photos in the student yearbook.

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