Former Medical School yearbook staffer: We took 'great pains' to avoid a photo mix-up

A former student who worked on layouts for the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook in 1984 says he’s not aware of any complaints about the wrong pictures appearing on someone’s yearbook page. Dr. William Elwood says all the photos that appeared were submitted by the students and adds that the staff took “great pains” to avoid a mix-up. From WHSV:

“Each student was allowed to submit a certain number of pictures that they wanted to appear on the page with their graduation photograph,” said Elwood. “They chose their own pictures, they were submitted in a sealed envelope with their name on them, and the only time that envelope was opened was when the layout was done on their page.”…

“In my personal knowledge and the people I knew that were working on the staff, we went through great pains to make sure that there was not a mix-up,” Elwood said. “To my knowledge, nobody complained that their picture ended up on a different page.”

Elwood does not recall working on Northam’s specific page, but he does recall that blackface pictures were not uncommon in the school’s yearbook.

“My understanding is that on another page, there was another group of students that had dressed up like the Supremes and were in blackface and it was in the yearbook,” Elwood said. ” So I don’t think that anybody thought of that as a significant problem back then.”

As I pointed out here, Northam’s former medical school roommate said he recalls Northam wearing a different costume to the 1984 Halloween party. And another photo from the yearbook shows a different male student apparently wearing the same plaid pants seen in the blackface photo. So there is some evidence suggesting Northam may not be in the photo as he claims.

Dr. Elwood doesn’t recall working on Northam’s page but says the photo would almost certainly have come from an envelope submitted by Northam. Is it possible to harmonize these two stories? Could it be that Northam submitted a photo of two of his buddies at the Halloween party because, at the time, he thought it was funny? I guess that’s one possibility but if the issue is his sensitivity to blackface then submitting the photo isn’t a whole lot better than being in it. Also, Northam has claimed he never saw the photo before last week. That obviously couldn’t be the case if he submitted it in a sealed white envelope with the other photos.

Alternatively, maybe he submitted the blackface photo for the most obvious reason: It was him. Maybe he borrowed the pants from a guy he knew from another school club because the pants seemed to fit the costume. Maybe his roommate remembers it wrong or is remembering a different year’s party.

Out there somewhere is at least one other person who knows who was in the photo but for obvious reasons, I don’t think that person wants to come forward. The Associated Press is reporting this afternoon that another former classmate says he remembers the Halloween party from 1984 but doesn’t know if Northam was in the photo:

Dr. M. Scott Klavans said Tuesday that attendees were told to dress up in the crudest or most obnoxious costume they could imagine.

Klavans says he doesn’t remember whether Northam was wearing either of the costumes in the photo. But he says there were a “lot of people dressed up in costumes that were not appropriate at the time” and that they were probably a “bad attempt at humor at the time.”

Klavans said he was friends with Northam in school and the photo doesn’t reflect the person he knew. He says Northam “is not a racist.”

One question about this. If the theme of the party was to wear the crudest, most offensive costume imaginable how does that mesh with Northam’s roommate reporting he dressed as a lawyer? Was that meant as a kind of dad joke, i.e. lawyers are the worst thing I can imagine? Maybe so but it seems that’s not the type of humor most attendees engaged in at the time. Also, if Northam submitted the blackface picture (even if he’s not in it), it seems odd he’d have gone with such a tame costume himself. Something doesn’t quite add up. Maybe he should explain.

The WHSV video report isn’t embeddable but you can view it here. CNN also spoke to Dr. Elwood about this. Here is their report: