Wake Forest, Elon universities address blackface, racist pictures in old yearbooks

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest and Elon universities combed through old yearbooks to see if their yearbooks contained racist photos like those that recently threw the Virginia governor into controversy.

Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch said in a news release that he was disturbed to find that old issues of the university’s yearbook, The Howler, contained references to lynching, racial slurs and blackface.

“Wearing blackface is racist and offensive – then and now,” Hatch said. “The behavior in these images does not represent the inclusive University we aspire to be. As an academic institution dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and the motto of Pro Humanitate, we continue to explore and improve how to reconcile our complex history with the progress we’ve made and the sense of belonging we want everyone in our community to feel.”

Elon University reported that they found two photographs from the 1950s showing white students in what appears to be blackface.

The university added that they are unsure of the context of the photos.

One photo reportedly show students with their faces painted black, cartoon faces on their bodies and stripes on their arms. The photo has no caption.

Another photo contains the caption “Clowning Around.”

Elon University also found “highly objectionable illustrations, crude cartoons and some blackface ‘minstrel’ shows” depicted in yearbooks from 1916 through the early 1940s, as well as images of cultural appropriation, primarily of Native Americans, since the 1960s.

“I find it painful to look at these hurtful racial stereotypes and consider the experience of our African American and Native American employees, and later students, during these periods of Elon’s past,” said Elon University President Connie Book. “Taking an honest and courageous look at our history will strengthen our understanding of not only our past, but of who we are today and who we want to be in the future. These visuals strengthen our resolve and our commitment to equality — at Elon and beyond.”

Wake Forest’s and Elon’s comments come after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam came under fire after a photo surfaced of a man in blackface next to a man in a Ku Klux Klan costume on his page in his 1984 medical school yearbook. 

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