Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(RICHMOND, Va.) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam defiantly refused to resign Saturday and denied that he was the racist yearbook photo that led to widespread calls for him to step down immediately.
The photo, which was revealed on Friday, shows two men, one in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another in blackface, on Northam's medical school yearbook page in 1984. Northam graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School.
"Yesterday I took responsibility for content that appeared on my page that was clearly racist and offensive. I will not excuse the content of the photo. It was offensive, racist and despicable. I was seeing it for the first time. I was unaware of what was on my page. I was appalled that they appeared on my page," Northam said at a lengthy press conference at Virginia's executive mansion.
"I believe now I am not either of the people in that photo. It is disgusting, offensive, racist," Northam said.
As recently as Friday night, Northam admitted that he was in the photo and apologized for it. But on Saturday, he reversed his earlier statement and said he was not in the photo.
"I recognize that this will be difficult for others to believe. I conceded that based on the evidence presented to me at the time. In the hours after I reflected with my family and my classmates," Northam said.
The governor also admitted that in the same year, he participated in a dance contest in San Antonio, and "I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume."
After he won the contest he said a friend named Seth later explained to him why blackface is so offensive, and he said he's never done it again.
Northam also categorically denied association with the Ku Klux Klan.
“There is no way I have ever been in a KKK uniform,” Northam said.
The governor said he would not resign because staying in office and furthering the conversation about race "is the more difficult path" and that he did not want to take the "easy way out."
"What I really want to do is talk about the racism and discrimination that I have fought against," he said.
Earlier Saturday, a source close to Northam, who requested not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation, told ABC News that Northam had been calling friends from medical school in an attempt to identify the men.
The Democratic Party of Virginia said in a statement Saturday that Northam should step down immediately and be replaced by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
"We made the decision to let Governor Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning — we have gotten word he will not do so this morning. We stand with Democrats across Virginia and the country calling him to immediately resign. He no longer has our confidence or our support. Governor Northam must end this chapter immediately, step down, and let Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax heal Virginia's wounds and move us forward. We can think of no better person than Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to do so," the statement said.
Official reports said Saturday that Northam now says he was not in the photo and has no immediate plans to resign.
Northam did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on Saturday.
But late Friday evening, Northam, 59, apologized and said that he was in the photo, which depicted some of the most racist tropes in U.S. history.
"Earlier today, 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," Northam said in a statement. "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."
But, in the statement, Northam did not say he would step down.
"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," Northam added.
Virginia has become a key battleground state for U.S. elections. It is a consistent swing state for presidential elections. Northam was elected in 2017, besting former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie.
High-profile Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, campaigned for Northam in 2017.
On Saturday morning, Biden joined the chorus of prominent Democrats and potential 2020 presidential candidates in calling for Northam to resign.
"There is no place for racism in America. Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately, Justin Fairfax is the leader Virginia needs now," Biden tweeted.
The Democratic Caucus in both the Virginia House of Representatives and Virginia Senate have called on Northam to resign. Senate Democrats released a statement saying, in part, "It is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked him to step down."
On Friday, the head of Virginia's Republican Party also called on Northam to resign.
"Racism has no place in Virginia,” said Virginia GOP Chairman Jack Wilson. "These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately."
Under the Virginia Constitution, if Northam resigns or is impeached, he would be succeeded by his lieutenant governor. Fairfax is a 39-year-old African-American former lawyer.
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