Thanks to an unfortunate 1970s fashion choice, a Chesterfield County resident has gotten sucked into the scandal engulfing Gov. Ralph Northam.
Terry Smoot, a high school classmate of Northam’s, found himself at the center of an internet conspiracy theory when a photo from their 1977 Onancock High School yearbook surfaced alongside a racist photo from Northam’s page in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
In the high school photo, Smoot is sporting a pair of plaid pants that several blogs and internet trolls have pointed out are similar to pants worn by the man in blackface in Northam’s later yearbook photo.
So, some people have jumped to the conclusion that Smoot is the man in blackface. The two photos appear in yearbooks seven years apart.
“The whole notion is so absurd,” Smoot said in a phone interview Tuesday. “They are not the same pair of pants. People are really reaching.”
Smoot said he supports the governor and does not think Northam is either of the men in the racist photo, which shows a man in blackface next to a man in Ku Klux Klan robes. After initially apologizing for appearing in the photo, Northam has denied that he’s either of the men and has resisted calls that he resign.
Smoot “had a laugh” about the mix-up when his wife told him of a reporter’s knock on the door of their North Chesterfield home.
“But then I thought, I guess I have to take this seriously,” he said.
He’s happy the speculation has mostly stayed online. Smoot isn’t on Facebook or Twitter, which has made him harder to track down.
He couldn’t recall the color of the pants, but Smoot is sure he wouldn’t have been able to squeeze into their 28- or 29-inch waist seven years removed from high school. His mother bought them, he said, “at Sears most likely — we ordered most of our clothes through the Sears Roebuck catalogue.”
Smoot and Northam grew up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The small town of Onancock is in Accomack County, which integrated its schools when the two were in the sixth grade, Smoot said. Yearbook photos of their graduating class, of which Northam was voted “most dignified,” show that it was nearly half black.
They’re featured together in a “Hi-Y” club photo in their senior yearbook. Hi-Y is a YMCA club. Northam is listed as the president; Smoot was the treasurer.
Smoot said he and Northam were friends in high school but went their separate ways after graduation. Northam went to Virginia Military Institute — where a yearbook caption calling him “Coonman” has sparked controversy — then on to Eastern Virginia Medical School. Smoot attended Virginia Tech.
By 1984, Smoot was working, he said. He now works for the federal government.
The two men have spoken a couple times since high school, Smoot said, but not since the racist photo emerged Friday.
“If I could talk to him, I would say, ‘Hang in there. I support you,’ ” he said.
Smoot told his children about the similarities of the pants in the photos: “They are as incredulous as I am. They said, ‘I bet you regret that fashion choice.’ ”
“I certainly want the world to know that’s not me.”