Republicans in Virginia and beyond have had great sport with the “blackface scandals” that struck two Democratic statewide officials, Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, earlier this year. In both cases, old campus yearbook photos that appeared to exhibit the future pols in blackface created intense embarrassment and (for a while, at least) a real chance of career catastrophe. Both Northam and Herring apologized and survived demands for resignation. But it’s been a real mess that has made Virginia Democrats’ efforts to regain control of the legislature this year much more difficult than they might have been.
By the law of averages, you had to figure it wasn’t only Democrats with this particular skeleton in their closets. And now Alabama governor Kay Ivey has made the blackface scandal bipartisan, as the major state news site al.com reports:
Gov. Kay Ivey is contacting state legislators, and apologizing for her role in a racist student skit from her time as an Auburn student.
Ivey was president of her Alpha Gamma Delta pledge class at Auburn.
Photos of her sorority sisters in blackface emerged earlier this year. None showed the governor.
But Thursday she apologized after audio emerged of a skit at a Baptist Student Union Party. The audio is a radio interview of Ivey and her then-fiance, Ben LaRavia. He describes Ivey as wearing blue coveralls and said she “had put some black paint all over her face.”
Ivey says she doesn’t remember the skit or the blackface, but perhaps recognizing that there really wasn’t much in the way of innocent racial insensitivity in Alabama in 1967, she’s owning it and apologizing profusely:
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.
Oh, I dunno. When Ivey was running for her first full term as governor last year (she initially ascended to the job when former governor Robert “Love Gov” Bentley was forced to resign in the wake of a sex-and-corruption scandal), she sure sounded like someone for whom old times there were not forgotten, as I observed at the time:
[H]er first reelection ad boasts of her efforts to preserve the state’s many Confederate monuments, and scores the “politically correct nonsense” from “folks in Washington” suggesting that the self-styled Heart of Dixie might need to come to grips with its past in the kind of ways that “special interest groups” (e.g., every civil-rights organization in the state) recommend.
In a campaign appearance after the ad went up, Ivey doubled down on the old-timey rhetoric, attacking “out-of-state liberals” for messing with Alabama’s fine heritage. Southerners of a certain age could not have possibly missed the echo of the old segregationist complaint about “outside agitators” coming in and inciting African-Americans to challenge Jim Crow.
And it’s not like Ivey could have been unaware of this legacy. Indeed, a year before the blackface incident, she was campus coordinator at Auburn for the gubernatorial campaign of Lurleen Wallace, run by her husband, George, to ensure he kept his grip on Alabama despite term limits while he was off running his racist 1968 presidential campaign. Indeed, Ivy recently touted her service to the Wallaces as the inspiration for her own political career:
Ivey later said Wallace invited her to join her team after graduation, but she declined, a decision she said she regretted. “Hindsight is 20-20!,” Ivey said in 2009. “I should have accepted and joined her administration, but instead I chose to get married in August 1967.”
Ivey credits Wallace nurturing her innate desire for public service. “Serving others has always been a passion,” she said. “Lurleen Wallace helped me develop that passion over when she was running for governor and I was a student at Auburn.”
Looks like she’s not about to apologize for that.