On Thursday afternoon, The Virginian-Pilot, the daily paper based in Norfolk, Virginia, broke news that was at once shocking and deeply predictable: another Virginia politician, another instance of racism captured in a yearbook. This time around, the lawmaker was Tommy Norment, the majority leader of Virginia’s state Senate; the publication was the 1968 issue of The Bomb, the Virginia Military Institute’s yearbook, for which Norment had served as managing editor. Among the images the Pilot cited from that year’s issue were one of a man standing in a bank of snow, clutching a Confederate flag, and another of white men in blackface, their arms slung around one another, grinning, posing, amused, proud. They are wearing sunglasses.
There is racist text, too, in the book meant to mark the passage of another year within the violence and turbulence of the late 1960s. “The N-word is used at least once,” the Pilot reports. And “a student from Bangkok, Thailand, is called a ‘Jap’ and a ‘Chink.’ A caption under another unidentified man’s photo reads: ‘He was known as the “Barracks Jew” having his fingers in the finances of the entire Corps.’ ”
Norment initially professed indignation at being associated with words and images that had, until this week, lived mostly in archives and attics. In a statement issued through a spokesperson on Thursday, he said, “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.” He added that he had supported VMI’s integration and, later, its inclusion of women. He also blamed the messenger: Norment was “not surprised,” the statement read, “that those wanting to engulf Republican leaders in the current situations involving the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general would highlight the yearbook from my graduation a half-century ago.”