VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A local group of clergy is joining the call for Governor Ralph Northam to step down.
The Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference released a statement Monday night in response to photos found on Northam’s section of a 1984 EVMS yearbook.
In the picture were two people — one in blackface, the other in a KKK uniform.
James Allen, who is the president of the conference, says they are not just speaking for clergy but the thousands of people who fill their pews each Sunday.
“They’re demanding he leaves. They want someone they can trust. They don’t like how he’s dragging this on,” Allen said.
The conference is known for helping congregations navigate elections by introducing them to candidates they believe reflect their own beliefs.
That’s why Allen says he felt betrayed after seeing the photo.
“We worked really hard to elect Northam, Fairfax and Herring. It is disappointing to see people who think demeaning black people is a joke. It’s never a joke,” he said.
Allen told 10 On Your Side that many of their older congregants were also offended.
“Our seniors, if I may be frank, are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore. They feel like they’ve spent their lives doing all of this for so long and now they’re faced with the same thing they were looking at 60 years ago,” Allen said.
He believes that Virginians and others across the country can learn from this incident.
“Racism is systematically imbued in our DNA. The constitution was not meant for us. We fought in all the wars, skirmishes, and everything else. That is the key thing. We got to stop it at the systemic part. How do we do we go about doing that? We do it individually, talking to people, building that trust. Right now, he does not have any trust with us,” Allen said about Northam.
While they do want him to resign, they are open to sitting down with him in the future to get past this.
“If he doesn’t want to be known as a racist for the rest of his life, then there are things he can do outside of the governor’s office we can talk to him about. I’m not saying we would run around and support him but there is a place for him at the table. We would never turn him away from the table,” he said.
Allen says they are also closely and carefully watching the situation with Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.
Incidents like this are encouragements for them to get their younger church members involved in politics, according to Allen.
Here is the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference’s full statement.
On behalf of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference (VBIMC) and in response to the published photo of Mr. Northam in either blackface or a Klu Klux Klan uniform, we hereby call for his immediate resignation from the position as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. There is no way we can see Mr. Northam being able to conduct the duties and responsibilities of the governorship when he has destroyed the trust of the African American community who worked so hard for him to be elected. We feel completely and irrevocably betrayed by Mr. Northam’s behavior as well as the lack of oversight and insensitivity of Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Additionally, we do not accept the backtracking Mr. Northam did on Saturday at his press conference. It is extremely troubling that he would apologize for being in the photo one day and the next saying he was not. We find it not credible that he would not know whether he was in the photo or not. If he was not in this photo as he has said, the implication is that he was in a similar photo. In either case, Mr. Northam’s behavior is inexcusable and unworthy of anyone holding the highest office in the Commonwealth.
At some point in the future, we will invite Mr. Northam to meet with us and discuss our thoughts and concerns face-to-face. However, our Commonwealth and the people of God that the VBIMC represents demand recognition as full citizens of this state and we will not allow anyone to vilify us in any manner ever again. This is going to stop now.
Therefore, we demand Mr. Northam resign immediately and we will be open to make amends in other ways in the future.
Dr. James Allen, President
Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference