By TODD STACY and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey is apologizing for participating in a blackface college skit after being made aware of a decades-old radio interview of she and her then-fiancé discussing the event.
The governor said that even after listening to the tape, she does not recall the skit or the interview itself, but would 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,” Ivey said in a statement Thursday. “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.”
Ivey reached out to some black state lawmakers early Thursday to apologize.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said has no reason not to accept Ivey’s apology, but told her blackface is very upsetting and a “mockery of culture.”
Singleton said his experience in the Senate when Ivey was lieutenant governor was a positive one.
“I’ve found her to be an honorable person,” he said. “(I told her) that hopefully we can use this as a teachable moment on race in this state and she can help lead that dialog.”
The recording, soon to be released as part of an Auburn University Libraries historical audio project, includes an interview with between Ivey and her then-fiancé Ben LaRavia describing a skit involving black paint on her face. The couple was asked about their “most hilarious” memories from Baptist Student Union’s skit night.
“As I look at my fiancé across the room, I can see her that night,” LaRavia said. “She had on a pair of blue coveralls, she had put some black paint all over her face, and we were acting out this skit called ‘Cigar Butts.’
“It did not require a lot of talent as far as verbal talent, but it did involve a lot of physical acting such as crawling around the floor looking for cigar butts and things like this, which certainly got a big reaction from the audience.”
Asked by the interviewer if she’d like to “defend herself” from her fiancé’s characterization, Ivey laughingly says, “that was just my role for the evening,” before quickly changing to another memory from that night.
Listen to the full audio below.
“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,” Ivey said Thursday.
Watch Gov. Ivey’s statement apologizing for the incident below.
In February, The Auburn Plainsman published photos from the 1967 Glomerata yearbook showing members of Ivey’s Alpha Gamma Delta sorority dressed in blackface performing a skit. Ivey was not pictured, and her spokesman at the time said she did not participate in sorority functions at the time due to her student government leadership roles.
Auburn Interim President Jay Gogue told Alabama Daily News that he believed the 1967 incident is not representative of the governor he knows or the university he leads.
“Governor Ivey expressed heartfelt regret. We agree that it isn’t representative of her, nor is it representative of Auburn,” Gogue said.
Some black lawmakers aren’t accepting Ivey’s expression of regret.
“The only reason she’s apologizing is she got caught,” Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said.
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, remembers blackface sketches. He said they showed “your deep, true feelings.”
Actions speak louder than words, Moore and Rogers said.
If Ivey is truly sorry, Rogers said, she’ll make sure that when the state is awarding millions of dollars in contracts for new prisons, black contractors are fairly included in the process.
“Words are easy to say,” Rogers said. “Actions speak louder.”
Moore said Ivey should be working with black lawmakers to expand Medicaid in the state.
Alabama Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan issued a statement of support for Ivey Thursday.
“While it occurred when she was a college student, Gov. Ivey has stood up, admitted her mistake and offered a sincere apology though she has no recollection of the event,” Lathan said. “Her extraordinary record of public service shows her ability to work with all people regardless of race, religion or party affiliation. We stand with Governor Ivey uniting our state for a greater future.”
Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, acknowledged he is in a photo his 1984 medical school yearbook page that shows a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe.