Missouri Republicans, upset over charges of racism against Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.), are circulating a 1960 photograph of Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) in blackface makeup performing in a Kiwanis minstrel show.
Carnahan is challenging Ashcroft for his Senate seat next year.
The issue of race arose after Ashcroft voted Oct. 5 to help defeat the nomination of Ronnie White, the first black Missouri Supreme Court judge, to the federal bench.
John Hancock, executive director of the state's Republican Party, denied having a hand in distributing what he called "a shocking photo" of Carnahan, then 26, and his brother, Bob, singing in a white minstrel quartet and wearing blackface makeup. The picture was published in 1960 in the Rolla (Mo.) Daily News.
A glossy print of the photo and a copy of the clipping were provided by a Republican source on condition of anonymity. Republican activists contend the photo reveals Carnahan is not the progressive Democrat he claims to be.
"Minstrelsy isn't lighthearted," said Hancock, a ragtime pianist. "It's one of the most degrading, derogatory mockeries of an entire race of people that has ever existed."
Roy Temple, Carnahan's campaign adviser and executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, said the local Kiwanis Club in 1961 abandoned the minstrel performance in favor of a variety show at the urging of Carnahan's brother. At the time, Carnahan's father, A.S.J. Carnahan, had become the first U.S. ambassador to the newly independent African nation of Sierra Leone.
"To put it in context, there were people like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope doing these things in the major entertainment media," Temple said.
Arvarh Strickland, the University of Missouri's first black professor, said Carnahan should be judged on his public service. "It's not what he was doing or saying in 1960, but his record as governor of Missouri. . . . When you look at his record, you certainly would not expect to see Gov. Carnahan in blackface."
The Missouri Legislature's only black Republican, Rep. Carson Ross of Blue Springs, said Carnahan owes black Missourians an apology. "It was racist," Ross said. "He needs to repent."