Virginia State Sen. Tommy Norment edited yearbook with racist photos in college

By Emily Tillett

/ CBS News

The "legacy of oppression" behind blackface

Two of Virginia's top leaders remain mired in controversies over the use of racist images, and another is now joining them. Republican State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment was the managing editor of the Virginia Military Institute's (VMI) yearbook in 1968, which featured a variety of racist images and slurs. The Virginian-Pilot first reported Norment's role in the publication of the yearbook, known as "The Bomb."

A photo from the 1968 VMI yearbook showing students in blackface. "The Bomb"

The book, which can be found in its entirety online, shows photos of upperclassmen with derogatory nicknames, some of which are racist in nature. In one photo of a student from Thailand, the young man is referred to as "Jap" and "Chink," with another referred to as "The China Man." Another photo features the description of a student being a "Barracks Jew."

Other pages contain racist epithets for African Americans, with one featuring a photo of students in blackface and another referring to student walking through a "stoop-n***** arch."

Beside a photo of Norment as the yearbook's managing editor, the future state senator is quoted as saying, "It has been the objective of this year's Bomb staff to concentrate on the VMI as it exists in actuality, not in theory."

He added, "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.'"

Virginia Politics Blackface
Virginia state Sen. Thomas Norment listens to debate during the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Steve Helber / AP

The yearbook's revelation comes in the wake of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's own racist yearbook photo scandal. Among the pictures on Northam's page is one in which a man in blackface is standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

Northam initially apologized for appearing in the photo but later denied he was one of the two figures in the picture. He did, however, admit to putting shoe polish on his face when he dressed up as Michael Jackson for a talent show in 1984. Northam also attended the same military school. Northam's VMI yearbook page included the racist nickname "Coonman."

Northam's scandal was quickly followed by that of state Attorney General Mark Herring, the second in line to the governorship, who stepped forward and admitted to also dressing in blackface when he was a college student.

When pressed about the yearbook's entries on Thursday, Norment told reporters "the only thing I'm talking about today is the budget," according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Norment is not in the line of succession to the governorship in Virginia.

Rob Legare and Grace Segers contributed to this report

First published on February 7, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Emily Tillett

Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital

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