RICHMOND — Yearbooks produced by Virginia Commonwealth University students showed numerous blackface pictures as recently as 1989, and a “Slave Sale” was depicted in a 1959 yearbook of VCU’s predecessor, Richmond Professional Institute, among a slew of other racially insensitive images over the span of several decades.
The images were found in an examination of yearbooks from 1931 through the 1980s of VCU as well as RPI and the Medical College of Virginia, which merged in 1968 to become VCU.
“I’d blush if it would show,” stated one photo caption in a 1947 MCV yearbook. In the picture, a white man in blackface with a cane and white hat smiled as he stood in front of several white men in lab coats.
The most recent example was a 1989 MCV yearbook that featured blackface photos in a Halloween spread — which paralleled a photo dominating national headlines in the Virginia governor’s 1984 medical school yearbook page.
The images from 1989 were published in MCV’s yearbook, X-Ray. One student was shown in blackface and an Afro wig.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in the 1984 yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School, his alma mater, also had photos from a Halloween party, including one man in a Ku Klux Klan costume and another in blackface.
Northam initially said he was in the racist photo but later changed course and said he was not in the picture.
The 1959 RPI yearbook, Cobblestone, had a spread for the “Future Business Leaders of America” listing a “Slave Sale” as one of the organization’s yearly accomplishments. The page said the “Slave Sale” occurred during a scholarship drive. Also shown were two men posing in front of a Confederate flag.
The 1947 MCV X-Ray also featured two white students pointing a rifle and hoisting a Japanese flag in the direction of a student — two years after the U.S. government held Japanese-Americans in isolation camps.
“We’ve got you where we want you,” the caption stated.
In the 1951 RPI yearbook, three white students were on stage in what appears to be either black masks or blackface, one playing a banjo. The 1952 RPI yearbook, The Wigwam, featured a photo of people with brown face paint dressed as what the caption describes as “savages.”
A wigwam is a dome-shaped shelter historically used by American Indians. The publication, which ran from 1931 to 1955, featured covers with Native American imagery.
The 1943 Wigwam yearbook featured a teepee on the cover. Yearbook covers from 1944 through 1947 included a Native American in a headdress. The National Congress of American Indians has since campaigned against the use of Native American symbols as mascots.
The photos were obtained from VCU’s online archives.
The Feb. 1 revelation of Northam’s yearbook page started a series of scandals involving Virginia’s other top Democratic leaders as well.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax faces two sexual assault allegations that he denies. Attorney General Mark Herring also threw himself into the mix by voluntarily admitting and apologizing for wearing blackface when he was 19.
News reports during the past week also disclosed that the Senate majority leader, Republican Sen. Thomas Norment of James City County, served as managing editor of the 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook, which included racial slurs and students in blackface.
The blackface scandals that have tarnished Virginia’s leaders prompted journalists to look for offensive photos in other yearbooks.
“There is no excuse for callous indifference toward one another,” VCU spokesman Michael Porter said in statement reacting to the findings, “whether evidenced in a yearbook from decades ago or today in a social media post.”
“The events of the past week have led many at VCU to reflect on behaviors, past and present,” Porter said. “As individuals, we must recognize the impact of our actions and move forward in everything we do to honor all people with dignity and respect.”
VCU stopped publishing a yearbook after 1990. MCV — now called the VCU School of Medicine — stopped publishing its yearbook after 2010.
By Hannah Eason
Capital News Service
Editor’s note: News writer Hannah Eason first broke this story for The Commonwealth Times, the independent student newspaper at VCU.