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Race and Inequality in Virginia

MONDAY, FEB 04, 2019

The calls for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign have grown after a controversial photo from his past surfaced on Friday. His personal page section from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook shows a person dressed as a member of the Klu Klux Klan and another wearing blackface. He also admitted that during that same year, he impersonated Michael Jackson in a dance contest by darkening his face with shoe polish when he was a young Army officer. He has apologized for the photo and called the image of the two men “clearly racist and offensive.”

A state bordering the north and south of the country, Virginia has had a mixed experience with race relations, such as the white supremacy marches and car attack in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017, sparked by protests about the removal of a Civil War statue. A look at Virginia’s demographics offers some insight into segregation and disparity there, as also experienced around the nation. Racism in Virginia and around America run far deeper than one yearbook photo. The following map shows where Governor Northam grew up, went to college and went to medical school.

Zoom in and click around more to explore the black and white populations of Virginia back then.

He was raised just outside of Onancock, Virginia, along the water. According to 1980 census data, his hometown census tract was 80.1 percent white and 19.5 percent black. This is close to the ratio for Virginia at the time (79.1 percent to 18.9 percent) and somewhat similar to the US as a whole (83.2 percent to 11.7 percent). However, neighboring census tracts were more diverse—such as 67.7 percent white to 31.7 percent black, as well as majority black census tracts where the populations were 49.2 percent white to 50.6 percent black and 41.9 percent white to 57.5 percent black.

He attended the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA, which first integrated in 1968. Back around the time Northam was a student in 1980, the school’s census tract had a racial composition of 86.7 percent white to 12.3 percent black. The surrounding census tracts were between 96 and 99 percent white.

Northam then attended the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA, and graduated in 1984, the year the photo was published in the yearbook.

In 1980, the census tract containing the med school had a population that was 82.5 percent white, and 14.5 percent black. The three neighboring census tracts had white populations over 94 percent.In Virginia in 1980, the unemployment rate for the white population was 4.1 percent, while the unemployment rate for the black population was more than twice that (9.1 percent). More than one in four black Virginians lived in poverty in 1980 (26.1 percent)--nearly four times the proportion of white people living below poverty (8.5 percent).

Though the socioeconomic status of black residents in Virginia has improved in recent decades, persistent gaps still remain. According to the 2017 American Community Survey, the unemployment rate for white Virginians is 3.9 percent while the rate for black Virginians is 7.1 percent. Additionally, 8.5 percent of white Virginians live below the poverty rate, compared to 17.9 percent of black Virginians.

Use Social Explorer’s maps and reports to learn more context about race and inequality in America.

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