POLITICS

Alabama Governor Owns Up To Her Sorority's Resurfaced Blackface Skit

Gov. Kay Ivey (R) apologized and said she couldn't recall the incident. But she also said she wouldn't deny "the obvious" after an audio recording surfaced.

The governor of Alabama publicly apologized on Thursday for participating in a skit that involved her and her sorority sisters wearing blackface while she was a senior at Auburn University in the 1960s.

In a statement, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) offered her “heartfelt apologies for the pain and embarrassment this causes, and I will do all I can ― going forward ― to help show the nation that the Alabama of today is a far cry from the Alabama of the 1960s.”

“While we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go,” Ivey said.

The governor said she doesn’t remember wearing blackface or the details of the skit ― but she also didn’t deny her part in it.

As part of her apology, she released a recording of a radio interview she and her then-fiance Ben LaRavia gave in 1967, according to The Associated Press.

LaRavia describes Ivey, who was student body vice president, wearing “blue coveralls” and “black paint all over her face” at a Baptist Student Union party.

“The skit did not require a lot of talent, as far as verbal talent; it did require a lot of physical acting, such as crawling around the floor looking for cigar butts,” LaRavia said in the recording. His comments can be heard at about the 1:39 mark below.

In February, The Auburn Plainsman, the student-run newspaper for Auburn University, uncovered a number of old yearbooks that included photos of students wearing blackface and performing other racist acts.

The Plainsman highlighted one yearbook photo that showed Ivey’s sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, performing a skit in blackface. Ivey did not appear in a photo on that specific page, though her name was listed on the page and it identified her as the student government vice president. 

Ivey’s media team told the Plainsman at the time of its reporting that the governor had never seen the yearbook photos in question before and “knows nothing about the page.”

Ivey said Thursday she has “just now been made aware” of the 1967 radio interview, which she also said she didn’t remember, and took responsibility for her part in the racist skit.

“Even though Ben is the one on tape remembering the skit ― and I still don’t recall ever dressing up in overalls or in blackface ― I will not deny what is the obvious,” she said. “As such, I fully acknowledge — with genuine remorse — my participation in a skit like that back when I was a senior in college.”

In response to Ivey’s statement, Alabama state Rep. John Rogers, a Democrat, told the Alabama Media Group that the governor needed to step down.

“If she did that she is insensitive. She needs to step down. She needs to be governor of all people,” he told AL.com. “It is not acceptable any time or place. Do us a favor and step down.”

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said Ivey’s apology will be “hollow” unless the governor takes steps to fight racism and racial disparities in Alabama’s education system, health care and housing.

“Her words of apology ring hollow if not met with real action to bridge the racial divide,” Sewell wrote on Twitter.

Ivey’s yearbook photos resurfaced in February shortly after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, found himself in his own controversy involving a racist page in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

The yearbook page, which was dedicated to Northam, shows one person wearing blackface posing beside another person who is wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Northam denied that he was either of the men in the photo, but he admitted another time that he’d used shoe polish to paint his face black as part of a Michael Jackson costume. He asked the public’s forgiveness for that.

Northam remains governor of Virginia.

This story has been updated with Sewell’s comments.

CONVERSATIONS