Orange County News

UNC interim chancellor addresses blackface yearbook photo

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) - UNC-Chapel Hill interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz was faced with a question about controversy immediately during his introductory press conference on Thursday. 

On the heels of Virginia's blackface controversy involving the Democratic governor and other high ranking state officials, similar photos surfaced from a 1979 UNC yearbook. 

One photo shows two people in Ku Klux Klan robes and another in blackface with a rope around their neck. 

Guskiewicz, along with UNC System Interim President William L. Roper, said the photo doesn't represent the University. 

"There's a number of things about our past we need to understand and deal with. That's a horrific part of our past. One that has no place here then or now," Roper said before handing off the podium to Guskiewicz.

The interim chancellor said he became aware of the photo Wednesday evening from the Chi Phi fraternity page in the 1979 yearbook. 

Colin Campbell, a writer for the News & Observer, tweeted out the image on Wednesday. 

"There's no place certainly now or in the past," Guskiewicz said. "I don't believe that reflects what our university is about today and nor could I believe that's what it was about back in 1979."

The national chapter of the Chi Phi released a statement saying:

We strongly denounce the behavior and sentiments displayed in these images. Bigotry is not welcome in our Fraternity.

Guskiewicz takes over following the resignation of Carol Folt - who stepped down in January. 

One of her last actions as chancellor was to remove the pedestal of the Confederate monument, Silent Sam, from McCorkle Place on campus. 

A number of students expressed their disappointment and disapproval of the photos.

"Certainly upsetting," said senior Annie Simpson. "I just can't imagine how anybody would ever think that that sort of behavior is OK. ... What would be going through your mind when you want to celebrate that sort of imagery, and put it in a yearbook?"

Some students would like to have a conversation about the topic. 

"I do think it's good that we have the conversation and rhetoric around the change of mind frames, to ensure that people understand that actions like that are offensive and harmful for the individuals that are portrayed," junior Chris Latimer said. 

North Carolina NAACP leaders spoke Friday about the resurfacing of blackface photos.

"I have often said that racism has gone underground in this country. It's never gone away from us, and we don't need to be so naive that we believe that it's going to go away anytime soon," said Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman. 

He added that racism is likely a topic that will be addressed at Saturday's Moral March on Raleigh. It has attracted thousands to march through downtown about fighting for the right to vote. 

Other issues addressed at Friday night's town hall included immigration, healthcare, and public education.

The march Saturday is set for 9:45 p.m.


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