W&M prez: Northam will not attend Charter Day; College mum on who will take governor’s place as speaker

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam delivers his remarks before swearing in Katherine A. Rowe as the new president of William & Mary on July 2, 2018, in the Great Hall of the Wren Building. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)
Gov. Ralph Northam delivers his remarks before swearing in Katherine A. Rowe as the new president of William & Mary on July 2, 2018, in the Great Hall of the Wren Building. (Southside Daily file photo)

William & Mary officials on Monday finally sent word Gov. Ralph Northam will not be attending Friday’s Charter Day.

The announcement came days after Democrats, Republicans, organizations and even a former vice president called for Northam’s resignation after a racist photo surfaced on a school yearbook page.

“We have conferred with the governor’s office, and he will not be part of Friday’s program,” said Katherine A. Rowe, the university’s president, in a letter to the college community on Monday. See the full letter here.

Rowe said Northam officiated her swearing-in ceremony in July of last year and was scheduled to speak at Charter Day later this week.

In February 2018, Northam served as keynote speaker of the university’s Charter Day. He received an honorary degree and acknowledged fellow honoree, Trudier Harris, the university’s first African-American tenured faculty member and African-American and Southern Literature and cultural theory schola.

Northam also acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the college’s first residential African-American students in 1967.

“We shouldn’t forget that those milestones were not that long ago, discrimination, segregation and racism are not long past history,” Northam said. “There are things that happened to people who are alive and in this room today. Our work to overcome racism and discrimination is not complete.”

Northam also mentioned Charlottesville and said the following:

“We still have a lot of work to do to ensure we eradicate discrimination and build a Virginia in which everyone is welcome, everyone is treated equally no matter where they come from, which religion they practice, who they love or the color of their skin,” Northam said. “I promise I will work toward that as governor.”

It remains unclear whether the college told Northam to cancel or he declined to attend.

“We conferred with the governor’s office and mutually decided he will not be attending,” said Suzanne Clavet, director of news and media for the university.

The college declined to speak with WYDaily (Southside Daily’s sister publication) on the phone and resorted to answering questions via email. WYDaily asked William & Mary multiple times who would replace Northam at the college’s Charter Day ceremony, which remains unclear.

“We are discussing options for someone else to fill that role in the program. We are not going to comment on who we may ask to fill this role,” she said.

The image shows Gov. Ralph Northam's page in his 1984 EVMS school yearbook. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him. (Courtesy of Republican Party of Virginia)
The image shows Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 EVMS school yearbook. It’s unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him.
(Courtesy of Republican Party of Virginia)

Clavet said William & Mary officials think Northam’s resignation is not for the college to decide but for the governor and Virginia residents.

The 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The photo shows two people looking at the camera — one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.

Friday was also the first day of Black History month.

RELATED STORY: Gov. Northam says that wasn’t him in racist photo

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.