Images from old George Washington University yearbooks unearthed this week show some people wearing blackface and others in the white hoods identified with the Ku Klux Klan.
University President Thomas LeBlanc acknowledged the 1960s-era photos from the Cherry Tree yearbook at a meeting Friday in Washington with the school’s Board of Trustees.
“It has come to our attention that the GW yearbook archives include racist images, some of which are now circulating online,” LeBlanc said. “It’s important for us to acknowledge our history, even when we don’t like what we see. Racism has no place at GW, and we will work every single day to create a welcoming, inclusive community for all. And we will continue to learn from our past and try to be more inclusive now and in the future.”
The revelation, first reported in the GW Hatchet student news outlet, came as many colleges and universities are grappling with racist images in their yearbook archives in the aftermath of a scandal centered on a photo found on the medical school yearbook page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). That photo, which surfaced publicly Feb. 1, shows a person in blackface and another wearing the hood and robe of the KKK. Northam initially acknowledged he was in the photo, then said he was not.
The Northam scandal has prompted a wave of scrutiny of old yearbooks as images featuring KKK regalia, blackface and nooses have emerged from the archives of schools including Rice University and the universities of Richmond, North Carolina and Maryland, among others. Colleges and universities have issued statements condemning the racist imagery, which often appears in photos of parties, stage shows and other social events.
One photo from the 1964 Cherry Tree shows two men in blackface at a talent show, identified as “Ron and Bob,” according to the Hatchet report. Another from 1965 shows a person wearing a white hood and dancing with a partner at a party. A third from 1968 shows three hooded and robed figures onstage in what is called a “Goat Show.”
With about 28,000 students, George Washington is the largest university in the nation’s capital and is based on a campus a few blocks from the White House.
Many colleges and universities are discontinuing yearbooks because of rising expense and declining demand. George Mason University’s yearbook ceased publication in 2015, a spokesman for the Northern Virginia school said. Catholic University, in the District, also stopped producing yearbooks several years ago.