Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) canceled his planned visit to Richmond’s Virginia Union University this week — the first stop on his so-called “racial reconciliation tour” — after being urged by students at the historically black college to “reschedule.”
Northam, who faced calls to resign earlier this month over a blackface scandal, had been scheduled to visit the university on Thursday to attend an event honoring the Richmond 34 — a group of Virginia Union students who were arrested in 1960 for holding a sit-in at a segregated department store.
But in a Monday letter addressed to the governor, Jamon Phenix, the president of the school’s student government, asked Northam to not attend the event, saying his appearance would “take away from the historical significance” of the commemoration event.
Phenix, who was writing on behalf of the student body, asked Northam to come instead at a later, unspecified date to take part in “a roundtable discussion and interview on ways we can all move Virginia forward.”
At least one member of the Richmond 34 took issue with Phenix’s letter.
Elizabeth Johnson Rice told The Washington Post that she was “appalled” by Phenix’s rebuffing of the governor and said he did not consult the Richmond 34 before contacting Northam.
Rice, who said she was representing the views of several other members of the Richmond 34, reportedly penned her own letter to Northam, asking him to attend the Virginia Union event despite the students’ misgivings.
In a Wednesday tweet, Northam said he would “respect the wishes” of Virginia Union’s student body and not visit the university this week. He said he would instead “host the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion on Friday to honor their bravery and courage.”
While I appreciate @VAUnion1865's invitation to attend tomorrow's chapel service, I respect the wishes of the student body. In lieu of my attendance, I will host the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion on Friday to honor their bravery and courage. pic.twitter.com/qIdX05cvsa
Northam’s “reconciliation tour” comes on the heels of allegations that the governor donned blackface on more than one occasion in his younger years.
The scandal began earlier this month when news broke that a photo of a man in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood had been featured on Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page.
Northam said neither person in the photo was him but said he did use shoe polish to darken his face to dress up as Michael Jackson for a dance contest that took place that same year.
Phenix told the Post that he had no regrets about his letter to Northam.
RELATED: Virginia governor Ralph Northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam
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)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
“This is not a lullaby for us. This is a battle cry. Students are upset about his presence here and, frankly, they have a right to be,” the student president said.