Northam cancels first stop of 'reconciliation tour' after student objection

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) canceled a visit to Virginia Union University, a historically black college, following protests from students. 

"While I appreciate @VAUnion1865's invitation to attend tomorrow's chapel service, I respect the wishes of the student body," he tweeted on Wednesday.  "In lieu of my attendance, I will host the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion on Friday to honor their bravery and courage."

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VUU Student Government President Jamon Phenix wrote a letter on Monday asking Northam not to come to an event on campus, according to a post on the student government's Instagram.

“We are in support of honest conversation around race and reconciliation to move our great state forward,” Phenix said in the letter. “However, we feel as though your attendance takes away from the historical significance of our commemoration of the Richmond 34.”

He suggested in the letter that Northam visit campus at a later date in the spring for a “roundtable discussion and interview on ways we can all move Virginia forward.”

The Richmond 34 were a group of VUU students who were arrested in 1960 while holding a sit-in demonstration at the segregated Thalhimer’s Department Store.

Northam became embroiled in scandal in recent weeks when a picture of his medical school yearbook page surfaced that showed a photo of one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam denied being either man, but said he did previously darken his skin to once impersonate Michael Jackson.

He was the first of three top Virginia politicians rapidly plagued by controversies in past weeks. Later, Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax (D) was accused by two women of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) also admitted to using blackface as a teenager.