Falwell apologies for tweet with racist photo

6/11/2020, 6 p.m.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. apologized Monday for a tweet that included a racist photo that appeared on Gov. ...
Mr. Falwell

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. apologized Monday for a tweet that included a racist photo that appeared on Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s medical school yearbook page decades ago.

“After listening to African-American LU leaders and alumni over the past week and hearing their concerns, I understand that by tweeting an image to remind all of the governor’s racist past I actually refreshed the trauma that image had caused and offended some by using the image to make a political point,” he tweeted Monday.

Mr. Falwell, a stalwart backer of President Trump and the son of late evangelist the Rev. Jerry Falwell, said he had deleted the tweet and apologized “for any hurt my effort caused, especially within the African-American community.”

Mr. Falwell’s apology follows the resignation of LeeQuan McLaurin, the university’s director of diversity retention, as well as the resignation of at least two other African-American faculty and staff members — Christopher House, a former online instructor, and Keyvon Scott, who was an admissions counselor.

It also comes after nearly three dozen African-American alumni denounced Mr. Falwell last week, writing in a letter that his rhetoric has “repeatedly violated and misrepresented” Christian principles. They said they would stop urging students to attend Liberty, would no longer donate to the university and would urge others to avoid speaking at the school unless Mr. Falwell changes his behavior or steps aside.

Organizers of last week’s alumni letter responded to Mr. Falwell’s apology with a note of thanks , adding they "are hopeful that healing and reconciliation can" result from it. The alumni also sought a meeting to discuss further changes, including the involvement of more "ethnically diverse pastors and advisors" on Mr. Falwell's leadership team and the school' s board of trustees.

In late May, Mr. Falwell tweeted his opposition to a mask mandate from Gov. Northam intended to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Mr. Falwell tweeted that he was "adamantly opposed" to the mask mandate "until I decided to design my own." With it, he posted a picture of a mask bearing a racist photo that appeared on Gov. Northam’s medical yearbook page in 1984 and — when made public last year — sparked a scandal that nearly forced the governor from office.

Mr. Falwell told The Associated Press at the time that his comment about the blackface scandal was made in defense of Liberty students, including minorities, who would be affected by tuition assistance cuts in a budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Northam.

Mr. Falwell’s reversal and apology also come as a growing number of evangelical groups align with peaceful demonstrations seeking action on racial justice in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah became the first Republican senator to participate in a march against police brutality on Sunday, joining a group of nonpartisan marchers, among them evangelical Christians.