Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has canceled the launch of his “reconciliation tour” that was slated for Thursday at Virginia Union University in Richmond.
Northam canceled his plans Wednesday to appear at the historically Black college after a student leader asked him to back off for the time being, contending that the beleaguered governor’s blackface scandal would detract from a civil rights ceremony in honor of 34 VUU students arrested in 1960 after staging a lunchtime sit-in at a whites-only department store.
“We are in support of honest conversation around race and reconciliation to move our great state forward,” Jamon Phenix VUU student government president, said in a letter to Northam this week. “However, we feel as though your attendance takes away from the historical significance of our commemoration of the Richmond 34.”
Richmond 34 member Elizabeth Johnson Rice, who disagreed with the effort to dissuade the governor’s visit, said Phenix never consulted the group.
“I represent many who extend this invitation to you to come and witness and celebrate this 59th anniversary with us,” Rice wrote in a separate letter to Northam. “We also want your presence to be a learning tool for atonement and the need for forgiveness for all of us.”
Northam, who has hardly been seen in public since the start of a national firestorm over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page from 1984, said he would honor Phenix’s request and accept the SGA’s invitation to speak at a later time on issues of “race, reconciliation and equity.”
“I respect the wishes of the student body,” Northam tweeted Wednesday. “In lieu of my attendance, I will host the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion on Friday to honor their bravery and courage.”