The Slatest

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Apologizes for Wearing Blackface in College Skit

Kay Ivey speaks to the media.
Kay Ivey speaks to the media after being sworn in as Alabama’s new governor on April 10, 2017, in Montgomery, Alabama.
Marvin Gentry/Reuters

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey apologized on Thursday after evidence emerged that she had participated in a racist skit when she was a college student in the 1960s.

According to AL.com, Ivey was already suspected of having participated in racist activities when she was president of her Alpha Gamma Delta pledge class at Auburn University. Earlier this year, photos from that class were found showing her sorority sisters in blackface, but they did not prove Ivey’s participation.

On Thursday, though, a radio interview from the time emerged featuring interviews with Ivey and her then-fiance Ben LaRavia. In the interview, LaRavia said that the two had acted out a skit called “cigar butts” that required “a lot of physical acting, such as crawling around on the floor looking for cigar butts and things like this, which certainly got a big reaction out of the audience.” LaRavia described Ivey as having worn blue coveralls and black face paint.

In a statement, Ivey said she did not remember the skit, but she believed that she did participate in it:

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.

Democrats in the state immediately called for Ivey to resign. The controversy comes at a time of potential vulnerability for the governor. Ivey, who as lieutenant governor was elevated to replace Gov. Robert Bentley in 2017 when he resigned after a sex scandal involving an aide, was elected in her own right in 2018 on her conservative values and the pledge to maintain the status quo. Ivey, Alabama’s second female governor (the first was Lurleen Wallace, wife of and stand-in for the segregationist George Wallace), was one of the nation’s five most popular governors in America through early 2019. She took a hit, however, after she signed Alabama’s draconian anti-abortion bill in May. She fell to 17th place on the list, though she maintained 57 percent approval in the state.

Thursday’s news dealt with overt racism, but Ivey has employed in the past the kind of Lost Cause language some have described as racist. In her 2018 campaign, Ivey at one point focused her ads not on substantive issues such as education or healthcare but on the anger over Confederate monuments. In one ad, she defended a state law she signed virtually banning cities from removing, altering, or renaming Confederate memorials. She blasted “folks in Washington” and “out-of-state liberals” for trying to tell the state what to do. “Up in Washington, they always know better,” she says. “Politically correct nonsense, I say.”