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More Anger Over Blackface Yearbook Photos

As images continue to be uncovered, colleges are forced to confront reality that institutions were hostile to black people and others -- well after they desegregated.

February 8, 2019
 
Photos from VMI yearbook (right) and University of Richmond yearbook

Virginia is facing a political crisis over several of its political leaders having worn blackface while attending various colleges and universities.

As more yearbooks are scrutinized and more images are becoming public, questions are also being raised for the colleges involved. None of the images are recent, although many colleges nationally continue to see blackface incidents.

But the images -- the latest are from 1968 (at Virginia Military Institute) and 1980 (at the University of Richmond) -- show that colleges that in theory desegregated were for years after hostile to African Americans and others -- at least to the extent that yearbooks with racist images were not seen as cause for concern at the time.

Colleges and universities in Virginia and elsewhere have for years debated how to talk about their ties to slavery and Jim Crow. These images, coming in theory after the fall of Jim Crow and slavery, are setting off new discussions.

The VMI images come from the yearbook, Bomb. As detailed in The Virginian-Pilot, images in the 1968 yearbook featured blackface, Confederate imagery, the N-word, anti-Asian slurs and lines such as this with regard to one student: “He was known as the ‘Barracks Jew’ having his fingers in the finances of the entire Corps.”

A spokesman for VMI, in an email to Inside Higher Ed, said, "We can’t go back and change what has appeared in past issues; rather, we want to learn from past mistakes so we can avoid mistakes in the future. With recent events, I met with the yearbook advisers yesterday to review procedures, especially those related to training the yearbook staff and the review process. I am confident the procedures developed over the last few years are solid."

The Richmond image, featuring people dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, appeared in the 1980 yearbook.

Ronald Crutcher, president at Richmond, issued a statement condemning the images and saying that they pointed to the need for Richmond to continue to consider its history.

"Last night we became aware that a racist yearbook image had been shared on social media. The image that was shared from the yearbook is repulsive to use. Images of this sort, and the behavior and attitudes they represent, are appalling and antithetical to the values of the university today. No one should have to experience the pain caused by such vile images or evidence of such behavior, either at the time the incident occurs or thereafter."

Crutcher, the first African American president at Richmond, added, "Such images reflect a past that must be reconciled and understood. We do not intend to forget or erase those moments. Rather, we must examine and understand our history so that we may become the more inclusive community we aspire to be."

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