Colleges launch yearbook audits amid Virginia governor scandal

Schools examine their history with race

Last Updated Feb 13, 2019 7:01 PM EST

Charlottesville, Va. — The governor of Virginia postponed an event Wednesday celebrating Black History Month as he deals with the fallout from a racist yearbook photo. The scandal has prompted schools across the country to page through their histories — and re-examine campus culture.

Pouring through the University of Virginia's old yearbooks, history professor Kirt von Daacke is uncovering countless examples of blackface and other mockery of minorities.

From fraternity parties to demeaning caricatures, it takes various forms.

One image he cannot get out of his mind is a mock lynching from a yearbook published in 1971.

"You have a white person who is done up in in blackface who has a noose around his neck and is hanging from a tree," von Daack said. "This is a horrifying image, I can't imagine why anyone would want to put this in a yearbook.

Von Daacke co-chairs the school's commission on segregation — part of an expanding campus effort to confront and own the school's past.

Von Daack said that "to white supremacists, it's a joke" to attend these types of events, but "everyone will tell you this is exhausting, it hurts, you have to go home at night and sit in a dark corner and try to recover. That these are brutal, vicious racist images."

Von Daacke said UVA's troubling history with race isn't behind them. He pointed to the school's yearbook — "corks and curls" — a reference to the burned cork used to blacken faces and curly wigs used in minstrel shows that depicted African Americans as inferior. The title has remained the same since it was first published in 1888.

Northam: "Virginia needs someone that can heal"

In the wake of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's yearbook controversy, several universities are now confronting racist imagery. Wake Forest and UNC Chapel Hill recently completed reviews of their yearbooks, revealing yet more blackface and students cloaked in KKK robes.

Students of color, like Komi Gali, appreciate schools owning their past, but said much more needs to be done.

"I think the first step is to have a conversation and talk about race," Gali said.

UVA said this begins dialogue to start the healing.

Trevor Noah says firing people for blackface controversies "doesn't solve the problem"