Virginia governor denies being in racist yearbook photo

(Reuters) - Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Saturday resisted mounting pressure from his Democratic party that he resign, denying that he appeared in a racist yearbook photo while admitting he once wore blackface in a dance contest.

Northam, who took office a year ago, said he would stay in his job. "As long as I feel that I can lead, I will continue to do that," he said.

Northam had apologized on Friday, saying he was one of the people shown in the photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook, which depicted one person in blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

But on Saturday he said he looked at the photo more carefully and is sure it was not him. In a news conference alongside his wife, Northam said he had made other mistakes, including dressing up in blackface to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest around the same time.

"I actually won the contest because I had learned to do the moonwalk," Northam said, referring to a dance move made famous in part by famed American singer Michael Jackson.

Northam apologized for his past actions and vowed to work to earn forgiveness.

"I am simply asking for the opportunity to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was is not the man I am today," Northam said.

Northam's press conference appears unlikely to quell the growing pressure from within his party for him to resign.

Even as Northam was speaking, Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said it was time for him to step aside.

"Virginians and people across the country deserve better from their leaders, and it is clear that Ralph Northam has lost their trust and his ability to govern," Perez said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Representatives Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer of Virginia said in a joint statement that they had not heard anything that changed their view that Northam should resign.

Earlier in the day, others also called on him to step down.

"Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately," former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat weighing a 2020 presidential run, said on Twitter.

Protesters gathered in front the his office in Richmond, Virginia, waving signs demanding he step down.

The head of Northam's party in the state also called on him to quit.

Other prominent Democrats - including 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Julian Castro - have been calling on Northam to resign since Friday.

Northam, a 59-year-old pediatric neurologist and Army veteran, graduated from Norfolk medical school in 1984.

The Virginia-Pilot, which published the photo on Friday, said on its website it obtained a copy of the photo from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library.

(Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Nick Zieminski)

Related: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, gestures as his wife, Pam, listens during a news conference in the Governors Mansion at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Northam is under fire for a racial photo that appeared in his college yearbook. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pauses during a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Resisting widespread calls for his resignation, Northam on Saturday vowed to remain in office after disavowing a racist photograph that appeared under his name in his 1984 medical school yearbook. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, accompanied by his wife, Pam, speaks during a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Northam is under fire for a racial photo that appeared in his college yearbook. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pauses during a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Northam is under fire for a racial photo that appeared in his college yearbook. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - May 21: Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam takes part in a candidate forum put on by Americans for Responsible Solutions at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town on Sunday May 21, 2017 in Alexandria, VA. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, who is campaigning to be elected as the state's governor, and his wife Pam, cast their ballots at the East Ocean View Community Center in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S. November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Julia Rendleman
FAIRFAX, VA - APRIL 29: Tom Perriello, left, shakes hands with Ralph Northam at the start of the event. Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates, Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello held their first debate on Saturday, April 29, 2017 at Lanier Middle School in Fairfax, VA. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - MARCH 08: Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam visits Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to visit with airport workers on Wednesday March 08, 2017 in Arlington, VA. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, cheer on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ralph Northam (R) is sworn in as Virginia's lieutenant governor by retired Judge Glen Tyler in Richmond, Virginia, January 11, 2014. The ceremony marks the first time in a quarter century that Democrats will hold all three of the state's top elective posts: governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
FALLS CHURCH, VA - OCTOBER 19: Hillary Rodham Clinton, center right in red, stands with the Democratic ticket as she endorses Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, far right, at a Women for Terry rallyon October, 19, 2013 in Falls Church, VA. Pictured from left, Sen Mark Herring, Sen. Ralph Northam, Clinton, and McAuliffe. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, take a selfie on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 2: Ralph Northam greets supporters in front of the venue as progressive and labor groups from across the Commonwealth host a forum for him and fellow candidate Tom Perriello to discuss Virginia's 2017 Governor's race on May, 02, 2017 in Arlington, VA. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Virginia Democratic governor-elect Terry McAuliffe (R) celebrates with lieutenant governor-elect Ralph Northam (L) at their election night victory rally in Tyson's Corner, Virginia November 5, 2013. McAuliffe defeated Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli in today's governor's election in Virginia. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
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