1984: College yearbook photo of KKK guy, blackface dude was funny stuff

Assuming most Pelican Rapids Press readers have, by now, become aware of the controversy over Virgina Governor Ralph Northam and a photo of a black-faced dude and a guy in a Ku Klux Klan robe in the college yearbook, here’s some perspective that might be fresh. 

Here it is, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 medical school college yearbook. Get a load of his fancy sportscar; his cowboy hat…and the hilarious picture of the black clown in plaid pants and bow tie–with the guy wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe.

The Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook publication:  1984.

Having some background in writing, photographing, editing and publishing–dating back into my college years; I’m vagely qualified to comment on this  issue. 

Should the governor resign?

No comment here. I’m sure the governor of the commonwealth of Virginia has little interest in what I think. 

But, you know who should resign?  The dimwit student editors that put the yearbook together in 1984.  This yearbook was published two decades after the height of the civil rights movement. 

It might be helpful to note: This wasn’t a high school publication; it wasn’t an undergrad college newspaper or yearbook; it wasn’t an alternative, white supremacy publication…It was a medical school yearbook, published by guys who were presumably a little more enlightened by 1984–and featuring guys who would become distinguished  doctors and physicians.  

Apparently, publishing medical sch0ol yearbooks down south in Confederate General Robert E Lee’s home state, back in 1984, wasn’t exactly brain surgery.

Who were these guys?  I’m assuming they were guys.  Girls aren’t that stupid. And certainly not in 1984.

Presumably these former yearbook editors have gone on to success in their lives.  Whatever they’re doing these days, they should now resign. 

A couple observations: 

• I did college yearbook and newspaper work. Though it is a bit painful to acknowledge my vintage, it was actually even earlier than 1984.  It is unimagineable, even as dumb as we were at the time, that such a photo would have been printed in North Dakota State University publications of that era.  I can’t imagine snapping such a photograph–or even fellow NDSU students dressing up for Halloween as a black clown and a robed Klansman. Few on campus would have found this funny. 

• A bit more publishing insight: As the word “yearbook” implies, it is published once a year.  That means it is a long, long deadline process.  This isn’t a breaking-news, snap-decision publishing environment.  Even the  dumbest college numbskull has some time to ponder content decisions and photo placements. It’s hard to imagine Jimmy running breathlessly through the door on deadline;  grainy Polaroid image in his hand, shouting “STOP THE PRESSES…I’ve got this great shot of a guy in blackface and another guy in a Klan robe.  Save some space in the book…It’ll be so funny!”

• Let’s assume Gov. Northam is, in fact, one of the fellows in the  1984 picture.  “Gee, Biff, lets dress up like a Negro and a Ku Klux Klansman and take a picture.  Maybe they’ll put it in the yearbook!  It’ll be really funny!”

• Let’s assume Gov. Northam is telling the truth–that it was not him in the 1984 photo.  Can you imagine the decision process of the yearbook editors at the time?  “Hey, we have some space to fill…let’s put this black guy-Klan guy photo right on Ralphy Northam’s page.  It’ll be so darn funny!” 

• So, at a press conference last weekend, Gov. Northam denies that he was in the photo–but admits that, back in 1984 he dressed up like pop singer Michael Jackson. Imagine his thought process, in 1984: “Hey, I’ll put black shoe polish on my face and perform the moonwalk for the fraternity boys…It’ll be really, really funny!” 

• All of this is baffling. Could it be that Gov. Northam and his buddies ran around dressed up like black guys and Klansman so often that they’ve  sort of lost track of how often they did it? “Hey, we’re part of the former Confederacy.  It’s only 1984–this stuff is still really funny.”

Those Southern boys, they are so clever, witty–and charming, to boot.

Oh, by the way, did I mention the year…1984?