Yet Another Virginia Politician Caught In Blackface Scandal

The Virginia political dumpster fire has brought in a Republican this time.

The Virginia political dumpster fire became a bipartisan affair this afternoon when Tommy Norment, the future Republican Majority Leader in the State Senate disclosed that he was the editor of a yearbook at Virginia Military Institute in 1968 that includes many photos of men in blackface:

A Virginia Military Institute yearbook overseen by future state Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment in 1968 features a host of racist photos and slurs, including blackface.

The revelation about one of Virginia’s most powerful Republicans comes as the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general are facing calls to resign over their own admissions they wore blackface as young men.

Norment, R-James City County, was managing editor of The Bomb publication that year. He went to VMI in Lexington after graduating from James Blair High School in Williamsburg and has been a state senator since 1992.

On one page of the yearbook, a student poses in blackface, surrounded by others in costumes at a party. Another page features a photo of two men in blackface holding a football.

The N-word is used at least once. A student listed as being from Bangkok, Thailand, is referred to as a “Chink” and “Jap.”

A blurb under one man’s picture says: “He was known as the ‘Barracks Jew’ having his fingers in the finances of the entire Corps.”

The Bomb has been published continuously since 1897. The first black students were allowed to enroll at the institute in the fall of 1968.

When a reporter asked Norment to talk about the yearbook Thursday, the majority leader said, “The only thing I’m talking about today is the budget.”

“I’m here to pass a budget today,” he added when pressed as he headed into a Republican Caucus meeting in late morning.

Hours later, he said in a statement issued by a spokesman: “The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it. As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry, or word on each page. However, I am not in any of the photos referenced on pages 82 or 122, nor did I take any of the photos in question.

“As my comment on Page 236 notes, I supported the integration of VMI. And in 1997, I led the effort to have my alma mater include women for the first time.”

“It has been the objective of this year’s Bomb staff to concentrate on the VMI as it exists in actuality, not in theory,” Norment wrote in the yearbook on a page for its editors. “There is an ever-broadening chasm between the two positions. With the completion of this editorial and the 1968 Bomb, I regretfully leave behind the theme ‘Honor Above Self’ and the loyalty of a few selected Brother Rats. Work on the Bomb has permitted me to release four years of inhibitions. And now, I am sorry our work is completed. It is a feeling only genuinely understood by those of us who labored in the ‘den of inequity.'”

In his statement Thursday, Norment said: “With 114 editions of The Bomb available online dating back to 1885, I am not surprised that those wanting to engulf Republican leaders in the current situations involving the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General would highlight the yearbook from my graduation a half century ago … Despite all of the distractions from the continuing controversies involving our statewide elected officials, I am intent on fulfilling the work of the people of Virginia by passing a fiscally responsible budget that provides tax relief for working families.”

Given the fact that this is 1968 we’re talking about, the revelation by Norment doesn’t seem like quite as big a shock as those involving Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring. This, after all, was still a time when the backlash against the civil rights movement was still active throughout the south, including in Virginia, which was a far different state back then than it is today. It’s also worth noting that Norment is not in the line of succession to the Governorship, but the fact that these revelations are continuing is just adding to the chaos that is enveloping Richmond even as the legislature tries to get its job done, a job which includes getting a budget for the new Fiscal Year, which begins July 1st on the calendar Virginia works under, and this isn’t going to make it any easier. Indeed, at this point, perhaps we need to ask which Virginia politicians haven’t been involved in blackface scandal in the past.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Any day now, Doug, it will be your turn to be in line for the governor’s mansion. They’re going to run out of legislators soon and they’ll have to start drafting people from the general population.

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  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    Clearly the only alternative at this point is to make Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, the next governor.

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  3. @Michael Reynolds: z

    If they go in alphabetical order, it’ll be James’s turn before they get to me.

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  4. EddieInCA says:

    It’s becoming obvious to me, after speaking to several friends from Virginia and North Carolina that those of us from non-confederate states do not realize how prevalent this was in the 70’s and 80’s in way too many states. I’m certain that we are about to see an avalanche of photos, videos, etc from that time period that’s going to ensnare a whole lot politicos – Dems and Repubs.

    For me, being born in Los Angeles and raised in NYC, it’s unfathomable that this was “normal’, but I’m realizing, like the election of 2016, that this country is/was more racist than I ever knew.

    Of course, I’m a person of color, so maybe that taints my view a bit.

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    Did anyone see the article showing some of the things people are dredging up from Southern college yearbooks? There was one picture of two fraternity bros dressed as confederate soldiers “hanging” another moron in blackface. Massive Yuks! Hopefully this will put another nail in the coffin of the farce that is “Worship of the Confederacy only has to do with honoring our ancestors and nothing to do with racism”.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:
    You should have come around to Niceville, Florida in the early 60’s. I was born in LA to a liberal Jewish mother, we’d spent three years in France (military) during which I attended French schools, and then. . . the Florida panhandle. Water moccasins and racists. Separate and not even close to equal. Not an encouraging re-introduction to the USA.

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    @EddieInCA: In the 90’s I lived in GA and, among other things, ran some equipment service guys. Of the three that covered GA, one was a dark skinned Indian (from India) another was a Venuzuelan with a heavy accent, and the third was a good old boy. One afternoon I chanced upon then having a discussion about whether the good old boy could make an emergency call to a particular customer. He couldn’t and the other two were obviously stressed. Why? If they went and the job took a long time, they couldn’t be sure to get out of town before dark. Why? Well, this town was know for having a circle in the town center with a ring of three foot high white robed Klansmen figurines surrounding a wooden cross with a flickering red light bulb on top. I told them I didn’t think they should go and I didn’t care if anyone ever serviced them.

    This was the 90’s!

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  8. James Pearce says:

    Indeed, at this point, perhaps we need to ask which Virginia politicians haven’t been involved in blackface scandal in the past.

    Maybe we should just turn off our TVs.

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  9. Tyrell says:

    @EddieInCA: This now seems in the class of “Everybody’s doing it”. In other words, much like the shenanigans and hocus pocus that car dealers pull. A few years ago I told a lawyer about my car buying experience with the funny numbers, tag team sales people, and mysterious fees (after mind numbing hours in a showroom). He said forget it, they all do it.

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  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    I taught Computer Science at William and Mary in the second half of the 80’s. I wasn’t aware of a lot of blackface – this is when L. Douglas Wilder was elected governor, by the way – but a campus fraternity held an annual costume cotillion – which my wife reports had black male students dressing in Confederate uniforms. My own reaction then was more eyeroll than outrage.

    At the same time, I kind of think my own reactions are not as important as those of black Virginians, and I haven’t heard much directly from them. Some, for sure. It could stand to be more, I think.

    So. I kind of think times were different then. Like others, I think Northam’s biggest problem is his ham-handed management of this. Times change, and people change with them.

    I find it questionable whether Norment had nothing to do with the photos and other problem bits of those yearbooks. And that was 50 years ago, not 30. He certainly seems to get it at an operational level, if not an empathetic level.

    One wishes that Northam was half as competent at dealing with issues like this as Norment is.

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  11. Kylopod says:

    He was known as the ‘Barracks Jew’

    I didn’t know David Axelrod went to VMI.

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  12. Eric Florack says:

    Did any of you happen to see Glenn Reynolds this morning? I think he’s got this one right…

    PREDICTION: Watch for Virginia Democrats to come out with something, anything, on some Virginia Republican as a distraction. It won’t matter if there’s anything to it or not, expect the press to treat it as gospel. This Virginia stuff is killing them, and they’ll do whatever it takes to change the subject.

    I have every reason to suspect that they’re already digging for such a distraction, but rather like Bob Mueller’s stable of young Democrats, they haven’t managed to come up with anything.

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  13. Kathy says:

    Can’t the state government be declared in moral bankruptcy, and handed over in receivership to a responsible adult who could stabilize things, them hold elections?

    Only half joking.

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  14. EddieInCA says:

    @MarkedMan:

    This time last year, I was working on a project in Cedartown, GA. We had a difficult time getting African American extras to come work in Cedartown. We couldn’t figure out why. Until a local told us… and I quote “This here ain’t new Georgia. This here be Old Georgia.”

    https://www.timesofisrael.com/kkk-denied-permit-for-cross-burning-at-georgia-park/

    Yep. There was a freaking cross burning in Cedartown (and yes, it’s Cedartown, not Cedar Town, as many in the press have named it incorrectly), in 2017. 2017!!!!!!!

    2017!!!!!

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  15. steve says:

    Someone should be pulling out yearbooks from all of those Virginia high schools and colleges from those years. Would be interesting to see what percentage of them have blackface photos or something similar. So far, it sounds like it would be a pretty high percentage. Dont remember anything like it in any of my yearbooks which would from the early 70s into the 80s. (Indiana)

    Steve

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  16. Tyrell says:

    @steve: Yes, must be a Virginia thing. Down here the yearbooks were football, hot cars at the drive-ins, fishing, and girls in short dresses and four cans of hair spray!

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  17. An Interested Party says:

    I have every reason to suspect that they’re already digging for such a distraction, but rather like Bob Mueller’s stable of young Democrats, they haven’t managed to come up with anything.

    Nice try, but as the latest news shows, the common denominator isn’t Democrats, it’s Southerners…oh, and keep whistling past that graveyard if you like, but Mueller is hardly finished and the best (or rather the worst, if you’re Trump or one of his cultists) is yet to come…

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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I dunno. Doug is from New Jersey. Doesn’t that make him a carpetbagger and disqualified?

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  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:
  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Williamsburg may be different from other outposts in the state with William and Mary being, basically across the street from Colonial Williamsburg and all the tourist-based infrastructure there.

    Other than that, eyeroll is probably about the right reaction. I visited my brother and sister-in-law about 35 years ago (and again more recently) and back in the 70s, it was like visiting another planet for a dewy eyed young blue collar worker from Seattle.

    ETA: Re, Norment: I do declare, he does seem to know how to get down in the dirt to fight.

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  21. Mister Bluster says:
  22. Guarneri says:

    Well it’s good to know that there are no racist blacks, no Hispanic-Black animosities, the Muslims love the Jews, the Yankees love the southerners……….

    You create these divides for crass political gain at your own peril. Deal with it. By the way, how are Coonman and Poontangman doing today?

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  23. de stijl says:

    A lot of folks who are no-name low profile pols and so called “business leaders” in the the South just got very worried. If this was common behavior, and implicitly condoned, it was inevitably photographed and immortalized in yearbooks.

    There is now a gold rush in buying up high-school and college yearbooks all across the old confederacy and it is a race between those who want to expose past behaviors versus those who want to bury it.

    Go exposers! Go, you magnificent, you on the right side of history bastards! Godspeed to your noble endeavor!

    We could cull a whole generation of reactionary racist establishment mo-fos in one mighty, mighty blow. Buy up those yearbooks faster and better you glorious few!

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  24. de stijl says:

    Why was this so common? This, literally, was my generation, and I thought we as a group had moved beyond rank racism. We hadn’t and I was naive.

    It’s just so tone-deaf, but if you’re celebrating the treason in support of slavery Confederacy with mocking blackface karaoke, you are definitionally tone-deaf I’d imagine.

    Apparently, there were social and financial benefits to being a totally douchey racist at that time and some white people just lined up and did that for acceptance or economic reasons. Well into the ’80s and ’90s and beyond per previous comments.

    But let’s not let them off the hook at all – there were true believers about and culturally empowered and they obviously carried enormous cultural and economic power, too, else the “cheeky” collegiate blackface stuff would have been stymied previously as unseemly to outsiders.

    Blackface by ignorant idiot college kids was condoned – perhaps even encouraged as a quasi initiation rite.

    If you suck up to racist power, apparently you have to provide racist bona fides.

    There is a lot of baggage here to process. Unpacking this is difficult, but necessary.

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  25. An Interested Party says:

    Well it’s good to know that there are no racist blacks, no Hispanic-Black animosities, the Muslims love the Jews, the Yankees love the southerners……….

    You must be arguing with yourself, as no one has made any of those claims…nice whine though…”Lay off us white men, other people can be bigots too!1!!!1″

    You create these divides for crass political gain at your own peril.

    Umm, no…division is created by doing something that is racist and stupid, like going around in blackface…

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  26. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    Go exposers! Go, you magnificent, you on the right side of history bastards! Godspeed to your noble endeavor!

    I feel like there are better uses of people’s time than mining old yearbook photos for outrageous content we can use to make our politics even more toxic. This nonsense has already destroyed the Dems in VA (and possibly their chances in 2020) and you want more of it?

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  27. Mr. Prosser says:

    I grew up in Denver, CO in the 50’s and 60’s. It was as racist and redlined as any city in the Midwest even though much further west. Thinking of my high school, Denver South High School, yearbook titled the Johnny Reb, known of course as the Rebels, theme song Dixie at games, the whole confederate milieu was there. The Key Club sponsored by Kiwanis, held a dance every year known as the Key Klub Klomp. None of my classmates that went political in their careers were ever called on this stuff.

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  28. the Q says:

    A friend of mine got an invitation to her high school reunion in Georgia to be held at a country club. This was 2000. It said at the bottom of the invite, “whites only”….I was shocked needless to say.

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  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @the Q: I would be, too. If the friend is a contemporary of yours (I’m guessing you to be at least 15 years senior to my 66 years, possibly more), it would seem that “whites only” should be redundant.

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: In fact I do. There is a saying–“sunlight is the best disinfectant” (it comes from Korea, IIRC). The only thing sunlight isn’t particularly good for is mushrooms. (Not implying anything, just sayin’).

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  31. James Pearce says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    In fact I do.

    If you knew where some of this stuff was coming from, you would not.

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