Former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen, whom Eastern Virginia Medical School has tapped to investigate its blackface scandal and history of racism, belonged to a country club that did not have a black member until 1992, The Washington Post reported that year.
According to the Post story, other members at the Country Club of Virginia said Cullen, then a U.S. attorney, was a member there. He did not respond to HuffPost’s request for confirmation about whether he belonged to the Richmond club, how long he was a member, or if he still is.
Cullen is now responsible for leading an external review of several racist yearbook entries and incidents at the medical school in the wake of last week’s news that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who attended the school in the 1980s, appeared in a yearbook photo showing one man in a KKK outfit and another wearing blackface.
“We are acutely hurt by the events which occurred, but it does not compare to the feelings of outrage and pain for our minority and African-American community here at EVMS, Virginia and around the nation,” the school’s president Richard Homan said at a Tuesday press conference apologizing for Northam’s blackface incident and promising to investigate it. “The emotional wounds they endure are enormous.”
The task of looking into which staff members or faculty were responsible for the racist yearbook entries now falls to Cullen.
The Brooklyn-born Republican has held several prominent roles in his career — most recently as legal counsel to Vice President Mike Pence in Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties. President George H.W. Bush appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in 1991, and he also served as attorney general of that state from 1997 to 1998.
In an interview Monday with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cullen said it was obvious that the medical school “wants to take a hard look at past practices, and they want to do that right away.”
The medical school’s Board of Visitors, who selected Cullen for the investigation, were not aware of his membership to the Country Club of Virginia, Vincent Rhodes, vice president of marketing and communications, told HuffPost. Rhodes defended Cullen and said the university chose to hire his law firm, McGuireWoods, for its excellent reputation.
“Mr. Cullen has extensive investigative experience,” Rhodes said. “While Mr. Cullen is on the investigative team, he is not the only member. George Martin, the first African-American Rector at the University of Virginia, will be a principal member of the team.”
The Country Club of Virginia was one of many exclusive and largely all-white country clubs that began welcoming black members when such clubs came under fire in the 1990s. Under political pressure, The Washington Post reported, clubs started to seek members of color.
The first black person to join the country club was James Howard Cane in 1992 ― 84 years after the first golf course opened. “Club officials said they had no policy prohibiting blacks before the Cane joined; it merely happened there were none,” the Post reported at the time. Cane told HuffPost that he resigned his membership more than 20 years ago.
The club reportedly has 7,600 members and costs $75,000 to join, in addition to $500 monthly dues. One of its courses, Tuckahoe Creek, was once part of the Tuckahoe plantation, the boyhood home of slave-owner Thomas Jefferson.
“The Country Club of Virginia is a traditional, private membership, family-oriented social club, dedicated to providing its members quality products, programs, activities, facilities, and services,” the club’s website states.
Club officials did not return HuffPost’s request for comment.
This article has been updated with James Howard Cane’s comment that he is no longer a member of the Country Club of Virginia.