Alabama governor’s blackface skit brings up sororities’ histories of racism

This past week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey came under fire once again.

It wasn’t for signing one of the most controversial abortion bans in history this time, but for appearing in a 1967 skit called “cigar butts” at Auburn University in which she appeared in blackface. 

Fifty-two years after performing the minstrel-esque skit, audio surfaced from an Auburn on-campus radio show describing the performance and Ivey’s outfit, saying that she was wearing blue coveralls and “had put some black paint all over her face.” 

Republican governor Kay Ivey’s statement

At the time, students thought it was hilarious. Now? Not so much. 

Calls for Ivey’s resignation rang out, including from Alabama’s chapter of the NAACP, but she denied remembering performing in the skit at all and gave somewhat of an apology for her collegiate actions. 

“I offer my heartfelt pain and embarrassment this cause, 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 in a statement on the issue. “We have come a long way, for sure, but we still have a long way to go.” 

Ivey said Tuesday she has no intensions to resign, though. 

But, this wasn’t the first time Ivey has been in hot water for racists actions.

Alpha Gamma Delta’s page in Auburn’s 1967 Glomerata yearbook.

After the Auburn Plainsman, the school’s student newspaper, obtained dozens of old copies of yearbooks in February, the Republican governor made news again when a page featuring her sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, showed a picture of five women in blackface in 1967. Ivey was a senior member of the sorority at this time.

 The picture features the girls wearing what looks to be black masks and shirts with cutouts of black people on the pockets. The caption reads, “Alpha Gam Minstrels welcome rushees aboard their showboat.”

While some may argue that minstrel shows were just a feature of the time, we know now that they were inherently racist, seeing as though they blatantly made fun of the black population during the Jim Crow era.

Echoing the language Ivey used in her statement, it’s true that we’re a “far cry” from who we used to be during the racial divides of the mid-20th century; however, when looking at the issue from a sorority standpoint, has anything changed?

Being a sorority woman myself, I absolutely want to say that no Greek organization engages in racism or racist actions, but that would be a flat out lie. At least once a year, if not more, national news breaks of a sorority, usually in the South, in deep trouble for doing something racist. 

Just this past year at West Virginia University, where I go to school, the Beta Iota Chapter of Alpha Phi International Women’s Fraternity was suspended after a complaint was filed with the University indicting that a black-faced doll was found hanging in the sorority house.

WVU investigated the incident and found that the display was “not one of intended blackface,” while the sorority’s international organization said regardless of the intent “these young women expressed disregard for the racist nature of their behavior.”

The WVU chapter of the NAACP expressed its disappointment in the University for not taking greater action against the Alpha Phi women, saying that the display was “very offensive to African American students due to the history that lies behind blackface and lynching.”

Alpha Phi at WVU is not the only chapter to have had controversies like this, though.

In 2018, a sister of the Beta Mu chapter of Alpha Phi at Alabama University was booted from both the sorority and the school after posting a video on Martin Luther King Jr. Day using the n-word in an explicative-filled rant.

Harley Barber, who was 19 at the time, claimed that because she was in the South now, she could use the word whenever she wanted.

Barber attempted to apologize for her actions; however, the damage was already done. She even began receiving death threats for her hate-filled speech.

“I did something really, really bad,” Barber told The New York Post. “I don’t know what to do and I feel horrible. I’m wrong and there’s just no excuse for what I did.”

Yet, Barber’s rhetoric is echoed throughout dozens of sororities at schools not just in the South, but around the country. Tri Delta at the University of Oklahoma, Phi Mu at the University of Southern Mississippi, Sigma Kappa at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Alpha Gamma Delta at the University of Georgia, Alpha Chi Omega at the University of Tennessee, Alpha Phi at Old Dominion University, Kappa Alpha Theta at Columbia University, Tri Delta at Dartmouth University, Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of New Mexico and so many others have all gotten into trouble for racism, and the list could definitely be longer.

After reading about all these instances, I was honestly shocked. I know there were a lot, but this many? What the heck is going on, ladies?

Greek letter organizations take some issues, such as hazing, so seriously, while racism is hardly touched on. It seems as though we’re stuck in a cycle where something racist happens, the chapter and person(s) involved get in trouble, they issue a half-assed apology and we forget about it.

That’s not okay.

I think a few more people need to read Gabrielle Noel’s opinion piece in the Huffington Post describing how she experienced racism from the moment she joined Greek Life at her college in New York City and how Greek letter organizations need to take the issue seriously.

While some schools are trying to combat this problem, like Alabama’s desegregation of sororities, it’s just a drop in the bucket. Nearly all Greek organizations need more diversity.

This is what we don’t want.

As sorority women, we’re supposed to be setting examples and becoming the future leaders of our generations, but that’s not going to happen if we don’t address problems like this. We need to work to cultivate an environment that is welcoming to all, not just blonde, skinny, white girls.

Do better, ladies.

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