Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, served as one of the leading editors of the 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that features at least one image of people in blackface and some racially offensive language.
The Virginian-Pilot first reported Norment's role as managing editor of the yearbook and the offensive material published in the 1968 Bomb. An editor in chief served over Norment on the yearbook staff.
In addition to the photos, the yearbook includes several instances of derogatory terms for Asian-Americans, and one reference to a student as the "Barracks Jew."
Norment said in a statement Thursday afternoon: “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."
Norment says he did not appear in and that he did not take any of the racially offensive photos.
“As my comment on Page 236 notes, I supported the integration of VMI," Norment said. "And in 1997, I led the effort to have my alma mater include women for the first time."
On one of the pages, top editors described their mission in producing the yearbook, which came out during a year of turmoil nationally and transition at VMI. Five black cadets would enroll VMI in the fall of 1968, tearing down the color barrier at the oldest state military college in the U.S. and making VMI the last public college in Virginia to integrate.
"It has been a year of general discontent," Norment wrote. "It has been a year of political flare and unexpectedness. It has been a year of unpopular, but imperative transition."
The latest revelation comes amid the implosion for Virginia's Democratic leadership, with Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring facing separate scandals.
The swirling controversies - particularly over a photo in Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook that featured one man in blackface and another wearing Ku Klux Klan robes, and Herring's admission that he wore blackface at a college party at the University of Virginia in 1980 - have contributed to increased scrutiny of Virginia politicians over their racial and gender sensitivity, past and present.
On Saturday morning, the day after news broke of the photo in Northam's medical school yearbook, Norment joined the call for Northam to resign, saying he had lost the ability to lead.
Norment suggested in his statement Thursday that political opponents are trying to draw him into the controversy engulfing the state's top elected leaders.
“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," Norment said.
Norment graduated in 1968 from the then-all male VMI in Lexington, while Northam graduated in 1981. Northam has offered no explanation for a VMI yearbook photo that lists his nickname as "Coonman."
Nationally, 1968 brought escalating protests against the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and televised images of Chicago police beating protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In his section of the editors' page, Norment said that during a year of national turbulence VMI had persevered.
Norment added: "It has been the objective of this year's Bomb staff to concentrate on the VMI as it exists in actuality, not in theory. There is an ever-broadening chasm between the two positions."
Norment, a lawyer from James City County, is one of the most powerful members of the legislature, controlling the flow of business as the Senate floor leader and playing a crucial role in state spending as co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
VMI spokesman Stewart MacInnis declined to comment on the yearbook.
“I can’t speculate on why a person made the decision he made 50 years ago,” he said.
(This is a developing story.)