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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey apologizes for participating in blackface skit during college

NBC News logo NBC News 8/29/2019 Doha Madani
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks at a news conference in Beauregard, Ala. As Alabama on July 22. © Vasha Hunt/AP Photo Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks at a news conference in Beauregard, Ala. As Alabama on July 22.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an apology for participating in a blackface sketch during her time as a student at Auburn University, six months after a yearbook photo of her sorority sisters putting on a similar skit resurfaced.

Ivey said Thursday that while she cannot recall dressing up in blackface, she "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," she said in a statement. "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 gave a student radio interview in 1967 with her then-fiance, Ben LaRavia, who revealed her role in a blackface skit during a Baptists Student Union party that same year. LaRavia can be heard on the audio describing the routine, which he said did not require a "lot of talent as far as verbal talent."

"As I look at my fiance across the room, I can see her that night," LaRavia said. "She had on a pair of blue coveralls and she had put some black paint all over her face and we were acting out this skit called 'Cigar Butts.'" 

Kay Ivey sitting on a table: Image: Kay Ivey © Brynn Anderson Image: Kay Ivey

LaRavia said that Ivey, who was Auburn's student body vice president at the time, was crawling around on the floor looking for cigar butts, "which certainly got a big reaction out of the audience."

Ivey not only confirmed the authenticity of the interview Thursday, but her office also distributed copies of the recording to the media.

"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. "We have come a long way, for sure, but we still have a long way to go."

The Baptist Student Union party sketch is the second blackface incident Ivey was tied to in her senior year at Auburn.

After resurfaced yearbook pages showed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a photo of men in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes earlier this year, the Auburn school newspaper reviewed its own yearbooks. 

The Auburn Plainsmen reported in February that a 1967 yearbook page for Ivey's sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, featured a photo of five young white women wearing black masks and shirts with caricatures of black people on the pockets.

Ivey was not featured in the photo but was featured on the same page in a write-up on her position as student body vice president. A spokesperson for Ivey told the Plainsmen that the governor knew nothing of the page and that Ivey took on less of a role in the sorority as she began to focus on other extracurricular activities on campus.

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