Alabama governor apologizes for wearing blackface in college

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey,  seen at a news conference in March, said she doesn't remember wearing blackface during a college skit in the 1960s but "will not deny what is the obvious."
(Associated Press)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey apologized Thursday for wearing blackface decades ago, becoming the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their university days.

Ivey, 74, issued the apology after a 1967 radio interview surfaced in which her now-ex-husband describes her actions at Auburn University, where she was vice president of the student government association.

“I offer my 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,” Ivey said.


Ivey released a recording of the college radio interview she and then-fiance Ben LaRavia gave. In the interview, LaRavia describes Ivey as wearing coveralls and “black paint all over her face” while pretending to search for used cigars on the ground in a skit at the Baptist Student Union party. The skit was called “Cigar Butts.” No other details of the skit were given.

Ivey and LaRavia were married for a short time and later divorced.

Ivey said Thursday that she did not remember the skit but “will not deny what is the obvious.”

“As such, I fully acknowledge — with genuine remorse — my participation in a skit like that back when I was a senior in college.”

“While some may attempt to excuse this as acceptable behavior for a college student during the mid-1960s, that is not who I am today, and it is not what my administration represents all these years later.”

Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said Auburn University brought the recording to the attention of the governor’s office, which decided to release it publicly. University officials discovered the interview while working on a project to digitize and archive old university records, Maiola said.

Ivey is the latest politician to face scrutiny over wearing blackface decades ago.

A racist photo in the medical school yearbook of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam led to calls for his resignation. Virginia Atty. Gen. Mark Herring also acknowledged wearing blackface in college.


The Alabama NAACP issued a statement calling for Ivey’s resignation, saying her apology “does not erase the fact that she participated in these activities that mocked and intimidated African Americans.”

“It may have been 52 years ago when the skit happened, but it apparently still shapes who she is today,” Benard Simelton president of the Alabama NAACP said in a statement. The statement noted some of Ivey’s actions as governor, including signing into law legislation that protected Confederate and any other longstanding monuments from being torn down.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the only African American member of Alabama’s congressional delegation, said “Ivey’s actions were reprehensible and are deeply offensive.”

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

Alabama Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, who is African American, said he appreciated Ivey “owning” the incident and apologizing for it.

“While I think this is something that is disturbing in the African American community, for someone to make a mockery of us and our culture, I appreciate her for at least owning it and coming out publicly with it,” Singleton said. He said Ivey called him Thursday morning to personally apologize. “I said to the governor, ‘I think this is a teachable moment.’ ”


Asked for comment on the NAACP call for Ivey to resign, Maiola said “the governor’s commitment to serve the state is unchanged and unwavering.”

In February, when the Associated Press asked Ivey about her sorority sisters wearing blackface in her 1967 yearbook, she said she had never worn blackface and didn’t recall ever participating in a racially insensitive event.

Maiola said Thursday that the governor did not remember, and still does not remember, the skit described on the radio.

The 1967 yearbook photo shows five members with black masks portraying “minstrels” in a rush skit. Its caption reads, “Alpha Gam Minstrels welcome rushees aboard their showboat.”

The photo is on the same page as a description of the sorority and the accomplishments of its members. The page notes that Ivey was vice president of the student body.

“When I was shown that picture, it had to be a rush skit or something at the sorority at some point in time, but, no, I didn’t remember it,” she said at the time. “I certainly wasn’t a part of it.”