Blackface, racist photos rage in college directories of the country

In one of the most comprehensive research on academic yearbooks, we found photos of blackface and Ku Klux Klan like that of Ralph Northam, well beyond Virginia.

TThe old photos of the directory capture the light moments of the university that deserve to be remembered: smiling faces, encouraging gatherings and cheap beer cans.

But among these pages are images of students dressed in the dress and blackface of the Ku Klux Klan, knots and simulacres of lynchings, manifestations of racism undisguised but memorized in the form of jokes that we will laugh at later .

During the 1970s and 1980s, an impressive number of yearbooks from universities and colleges published images of blatant racism on campus, the USA TODAY network revealed in a review of 900 publications published in 120 schools across the country.

At Cornell University in New York, the 1980 yearbook listed three members of the fraternity: "Ku", "Klux" and "Klan". For the 1971 directory picture, a dozen members of the University of Virginia fraternity, some armed, wore hooded capes as they watched a lynched, black-faced mannequin. In one of the most striking images – from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Yearbook in 1981 – a black man smiles and holds a beer while posing with three people in ceremonial dress from KKK.

The reporters collected more than 200 examples of offensive or racist material in colleges in 25 states, from major southern public universities to Ivy League schools in the Northeast, in the liberal arts shops, and in the offices of the Division I.

THE HISTORY BEHIND THE HISTORY: How – and why – we reviewed 900 directories

The photos in the directory reflect the campus communities that tolerated the open manifestations of racism at the evenings they attended, the parades in which they paraded and the posters they suspended – despite the hard-won lessons of the movement. for the civil rights with which they grew up. In almost all images, people seem happy.

Minority students of this era say they are reassured by the behavior of the public that is likely to be subject to quick conviction, further exacerbating the marginalization of minorities on campus. And the choice to publish the images for posterity is even deeper.

Cassandra Thomas, a black student at the University of Texas in the late 1970s, remembers seeing in her yearbook the picture of a person wearing a KKK suit, draped in black and white. a Confederate flag. But she felt she had no recourse on a campus where a group of almost all white students and an administration decided what was acceptable and what was not.

"It was about keeping your head down," said Thomas, 60. "We were trying to get our degree and go out with as few problems as possible."

The volume of shocking images found during the review, which was not exhaustive, suggests that there are probably more directories that record racism on campus – and Countless acts still never captured on camera or submitted for publication.

The review also gives a new perspective to a whole series of cases that have emerged since reports have shown that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's 1984 Yearbook of Medicine has one person wearing a blackface and another wearing a blackface. a KKK hood. The image, discovered in early February, endangered Northam's career and prompted student newspapers and local media in the country to uncover other cases of politicians in racist situations.

The USA TODAY network study, which covered the same period as Northam's yearbook, did not identify any politicians at the time of the extensive civil rights reform. Few images bore captions to indicate names or context, and faces were often hidden behind balaclavas or blackheads.

In an article at Arizona State University, reporters found that USA TODAY editor Nicole Carroll had designed a page that included a photo of two people at a fraternity Halloween party under black makeup. of actress Robin Givens and boxer Mike Tyson. Carroll, editor of the directory in 1989 at the time of publication of the photo, expressed regret after learning the photo.

COLUMN OF THE EDITOR: I became part of our story about racist images. I am here to apologize for having published this

D & # 39; ARIZONA: More on the directory

"I was shocked when a colleague told me about my role in publishing a racist and hurtful photo in my university yearbook," Carroll said in a statement. . "I'm really sorry for the harm my ignorance caused at the time, and the harm it's going to cause now, 30 years later."

Images from several directories reviewed by USA TODAY

Experts say that even if school officials do not have direct control over the directories, the responsibility lies with the entire institution: A campus culture that encourages racist behavior; the staff of the directory who chose to commemorate it; and the administrations that did not condemn the images when they were published for the whole world to see them.

Andre M. Perry, David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, has been studying alma mater yearbooks at the University of Maryland. He added that racism in higher education involved everyone on campus. He was not surprised to see it documented as regularly.

"The solution, unfortunately, is to make fun of blacks," said Perry. "It's a unifying act. It's sad, but racism brings people together, especially whites. "

The yearbooks in the United States today, the TODAY network also shows students greeting in Nazi uniform on Halloween or wearing orange paint and a headdress depicting the stereotype of a Native American on match day. There are "slave sale" fundraisers that auctioned young women, "planting parties" and a "sharecrop". A photo shows a swastika banner hanging on what appears to be a dormitory wall.

But the vast majority of offensive material presents racist images, such as students in blackface or KKK dress, sometimes a few pages or even next to images of students and university leaders.

BLACK FACE: What does it mean and why it will not go away

Read more: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam criticized for referring to "first African contract servants" instead of slaves

Since the announcement of Northam, Steve LaCarter, 64, said he was waiting for a phone call about the holiday that he and his fraternity friends had organized at the University of South Carolina during the summer. School year 1976. They put shine on their faces, wore matching pink costumes and lip music synchronized on the lips on stage. Someone took a picture that he said keep in a Bible at home with other old photographs.

"I do not have the impression of harming anyone," he said. "There were no black people in the room who were watching this."

But he did not know that the directory had published it, which seemed to recalibrate his position.

"I can see that, for blacks, even in the '70s, as seen in the University of South Carolina Yearbook, it's not correct," he said. declared. "But I did not think about it. I did not think about it. "

Similar scenes are splashed in the directories: There are whites disguised as Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Aunt Jemima for sketches. A "skinny pimp" with a black face at a "Pimps and Whores" party of a fraternity. Some students painted their faces as nineteenth-century minstrel shows. Others marched dressed in blackface. Groups of friends dress in a KKK dress for costume parties and Halloween.

"If you dress up like that for Halloween and knock on the door of a black family, how would they perceive your costume?" Said Mia Moody-Ramirez, a professor at Baylor University, who studies representations. of race and sex in the media. "Would you still feel comfortable if you are in the company of African Americans and wear a black face?"

While more offensive images appear in the directories, the Americans try to weigh how past acts must take into account today's cultural norms, reinforced by more autonomous minorities and increased social awareness.

Images from several directories reviewed by USA TODAY

Experts said it was an opportunity for colleges to not only focus on the past, but also to focus on the racial inequalities that still exist on campus, but are better hidden and easier to separate from school.

"It's easy to ban things when you know they're going in camera," said Perry.

Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP office in Washington, said all the photographs were probably about a range of intentions. Blackface students disguising themselves for Halloween as a favorite black celebrity may have tried to be amusing and simply insensitive or unaware of the harm done. Those who wear KKK dresses, or those who use Blackface mockingly, might have worse motives.

"They can argue that they did not know it, but it was still racist," Shelton said. The most significant difference is how these same people react in retrospect – whether they accept their responsibility and apologize or deny they have done something wrong.

"That's the biggest problem," said Shelton. "Arrogance Ignorant, which is a very dangerous thing."

"How does this come into the directory?"

USA TODAY Network contacted each university and fraternity named in this story, where reporters found shocking images in the directories.

Almost all presidents or spokespersons condemned these images as antithetical to the values ​​of the school and said they have taken steps over the years to become more inclusive, distance themselves from the past while recognizing the task of history on the campus.

"Many of these photos are extremely shocking and hard to see," said Jim Ryan, president of the University of Virginia, in a statement. "But if the pictures themselves are shocking, their existence is not."

Images from several directories reviewed by USA TODAY

But experts believe that schools still have a long way to go to resolve disparities still rooted in higher education.

"The patterns of behavior in place in 1975 may not be so different," said psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum, former president of Spelman College, a graduate of Wesleyan University, who has since written several books on racism in the United States. ;education.

Some universities, including American, Elon and Wake Forest, have published the results of their own internal reviews to identify shocking images in previous directories.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the New York School, in 1979, the Rochester Institute of Technology yearbook published a photo of nine evening wear students, one of whom was holding a noose. The photo is grainy, which makes it difficult to know for sure, but posing with them is either a blackface white student or a black student.

The school blocked access to its digital archives on the Web after being interviewed by a journalist.

"We find the photos very shocking and do not reflect today's RIT," spokeswoman Ellen Rosen said in an email. "We did not want to share them easily."

Tom Grotta, who currently directs and runs a contemporary art gallery with his wife, was the publisher of the RIT directory in 1979. He stated that the school was a progressive campus with little racial tension and that he did not remember to have included the photo.

After viewing the photo, sharing a page with photos of a Halloween party, Grotta thought the students had just played a play because of the canvas wall behind them. Like the vast majority of images reviewed by USA TODAY, there is no legend and very little context apart from the other photos surrounding it.

"I do not regret the picture," said Grotta. "I regret not having a legend."

In Cornell, the Sigma Nu fraternity submitted KKK and Nazi references instead of members' names for the legends on the photo from their 1980 yearbook.

Images from several directories reviewed by USA TODAY

Three former members of the fraternity at the time, including two Jews, said they had not seen the directory page until a USA TODAY reporter sent it by email. Both said they never felt the hostility of their peers to the fraternity – though some were less welcoming than others – but were stunned to learn what had been published .

"I have lived in the house with all these guys," said Eric Babat, a freshman at the time and now a lawyer in New York. "How does this go in the phone book without someone pointing it out? I do not understand. It was in the Cornell directory?

Sigma Nu spokesman Drew Logsdon denounced the "deeply offensive images" in a statement.

A spokesman for Cornell University declined to comment.

A tradition of racism

Although many colleges have begun to ban the display of Confederate flags on campus decades ago, Confederate images are still part of the fabric of some southern schools.

For generations, the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity in Southern schools, including the University of South Carolina and Auburn University, has maintained the traditions of the "Old South" with parades and festivals in Confederate clothing and flags, the size of a basketball court, all registered in dozens of directories.

Since then, the fraternity has banned the display of flags and, in 2010, banned members from wearing Confederate uniform during events. The spokesperson of the Kappa Alpha Order, Jesse S. Lyons, said in a statement that the racist acts documented at fraternal celebrations "are at no point appropriate, do not reflect who we are and will not be tolerated ".

Read more: In blackface controversy, Virginia remains haunted by its confederate past

At the University of Texas, prejudices at school were so serious and institutionalized that some teachers spoke of the inferiority of blacks in the classrooms, recalled former Cassandra student Thomas.

Thomas shared another defining moment: her year of first-time white roommate left after discovering that she had been paired with a black student. She said that she could spend a whole day without seeing another person of color.

"We were not trying to change the world, so we would do it today," said Thomas.

While southern schools may be the melting pot of racist customs, the photos captured by the American magazine TODAY show that they also spread to other parts of the country.

In Midwestern and Northern schools, campuses are often touted as bastions of liberalism and tolerance. The directories relate some of the same events.

Until 1969, the University of Vermont celebrated the "Kake Walk" festival, which featured white students dressed in blackface and marching on campus to pay tribute to minstrel performances. But references to it, including blackface, appeared in the directories in the following decades.

Minstrel's broadcasts had perpetuated negative stereotypes about blacks – who did not have the right to play themselves – until the growing political and social power of the black civil rights movement removed him from mainstream politics. popular culture of the 1960s.

Experts say that these same types of postings can show the extreme power structures on today's campuses, where the pressure to comply and protect themselves often exceeds the meaning of injustice.

"People ask," Why are black children sitting together in the cafeteria? "" Said Beverly Daniel Tatum, psychologist and author. "It's because they protect themselves against this type of toxic environment."

The reporters found five examples of black students appearing in or next to KKK dresses, including the 1981 Illinois photograph at a Halloween party.

"As a black or brown student, you have to navigate these social relationships: try to integrate yourself or be punished by the same social structure?" Said Andre M. Perry at the Brookings Institution. "Many students smile and support it. They know deep down that it's wrong; they make fun of people like me. "

Jeffrey Barkstall, 57, was one of the few black students to have attended Illinois at the time the yearbook published the photo of a black, unidentified man posing with three individuals hidden by KKK outfits.

"I'm sure at the time, they probably thought it was funny," said Barkstall, an Illinois real estate agent.

He paused for a moment to reflect on his time at the university, nearly 40 years ago, and to find out he could have known who was behind the hood of the Klan.

"Who knows?" He said. "There may be senators under these masks."

With contributions from: Elisha Anderson, David Andreatta, Rachel Axon, Clairissa Baker, Dave Bangert, Megan Banta, John Barry, Natasha Blakely, Bonnie Bolden, Giacomo Bologna, Anthony Borrelli, Matt Brannon, Mary Chao, Trish Choate, Ellen Ciurczak, Mark Curnutte, Nicole DeSmet, Michael Diamond, Will DiGravio, Byron Dobson, Bob Dohr, Alana Edgin, Allison Ehrlich, Rilyn Eischens, Maggie Gilroy, Kirsten Fiscus, Margaret Gilroy, Jason Gonzales, Holly Havens, Holly Hays, Samantha Hernandez, Brantley Hineman Brandon Holveck, Tyler Horka, Stephanie Ingersoll, Kyle Jones, Sara Karnes, Monica Kast, Corinne Kennedy, Cameron Knight, Rachel Leingang, Dann Miller, Trevor Mitchell, Justin Murphy, Amanda Oglesby, Tovah Olson, Darrin Peschka, Darrin Peschka, Dan Radel and Gege Reed Mike Reicher, Gus Garcia-Roberts, Peggy Santoro, Jeff Schwaner, Caryn Shaffer, Devi Shastri, Svetlana Shkolnikova, Georgie Silvarole, Mollie Simon, Seth Slabaugh, Nichelle Smith, Zachary Smith, Matt Steecker, Kathryn Sull Ivan, Kathryn Sullivan, Joe Sarah Taddeo, Jason Truitt, Natasha Vaughn, Rose Velazquez, Katie Wadington, Tom Whitehurst Jr. and Candy Woodall

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