Alabama Governor Kay Ivey is on the hot seat now that a radio show tape has surfaced from 52 years ago. It seems that Governor Ivey took part in a skit performed in blackface back in her college days at Auburn University.
Governor Ivey was president of Alpha Gamma Delta pledge class at Auburn and vice-president of the student government. She was giving an interview with the university radio station with her then-fiance, Ben LaRavia. During the interview, LaRavia described a skit performed by the governor and her sorority sisters. The skit, titled “Cigar Butts”, involved the sorority girls wearing blue coveralls and blackface. Earlier this year, photographs emerged from an old yearbook of the young women in costume but Governor Ivey was not in any of them.
Thursday, after the interview’s audio recording surfaced, Governor Ivey reached out to individual lawmakers with an apology and she released a video apology as well.
“I have now been made aware of a taped interview that my then-fiance, Ben LaRavia, and I gave to the Auburn student radio station back when I was SGA Vice President.
“Even after listening to the tape, I sincerely do not recall either the skit, which evidently occurred at a Baptist Student Union party, or the interview itself, both which occurred 52-years ago. Even though Ben is the one on tape remembering the skit – and I still don’t recall ever dressing up in overalls or in blackface – I 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.
“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. We have come a long way, for sure, but we still have a long way to go.”
The governor says she doesn’t remember the skit. The radio interview tape surfaced as the Auburn University Libraries continue to digitize old audio.
She said she doesn’t recall the skit or the interview, even after listening to the tape. Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, told The Washington Post that Auburn University Libraries discovered the recording during its ongoing effort to digitize old audio. A university representative told the governor’s office on Tuesday evening, and Ivey listened to it on Wednesday morning.
As you can imagine, reactions poured in and they weren’t good, for the most part. While fellow Republican lawmakers mostly support the governor and vouch for her character and conduct during her lifelong career in politics, her opponents see this as an opportunity to call for her to resign. The state’s NAACP chapter calls for her resignation, too.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan was particularly harsh in her criticism of Governor Ivey. She even sounds as though she considers herself the voice of black Alabamians as she speaks in an interview. She also dropped the n-word in her response.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, says Ivey should have held a press conference.
“I don’t care if it was 52 years ago or yesterday. She is the governor of the state of Alabama, which is still considered one of the most racist states in the U.S. This is who she was then. It is who she is now. I have nothing for her. I don’t accept her apology. She should have stood before the people of Alabama herself.”
“She should resign. I don’t thing she should have been elected, and I think she is a racist.”
What does it say to black Alabamians?
“It’s the realization that she is who she is,” Givan said. “Dr. Maya Angelou said ’when people show you who they are, believe them.”
“Just as she stood there in blackface, how many times has she said nigger. I’m going to say the word. That is the question black folk need to ask themselves today.”
“I am unapologetic for anything that I just said.”
Governor Ivey is now 74 years old. This skit with her sorority sisters was performed in 1967. Times have certainly changed. I know this because I was born and raised in the deep South, though not in Alabama. She won the election for governor in 2018. She was appointed as governor, as the sitting lt. governor, after the resignation of former Governor Robert Bentley and, was elected to a full term in 2018 with 59.5% of the vote. She is eligible to run for re-election for a second full term but has not yet announced if she plans to do so.
If this story about a prominent politician being tripped up over a controversy involving blackface sounds familiar it is because it is. The Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, is still in office after his student adventures in blackface were exposed. His days of dress-up are much more recent than Governor Ivey’s. He’s a Democrat, though, and the political atmosphere in the state has allowed him to weather the storm and stay put.
We’ll have to wait and see if Governor Ivey survives. The Alabama Republican Party is standing behind her, at least for now.