Gov. Kay Ivey apologizes for racist skit from time at Auburn


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Gov. Kay Ivey is contacting state legislators, and apologizing for her role in a racist student skit from her time as an Auburn student.

Ivey was president of her Alpha Gamma Delta pledge class at Auburn. Photos of her sorority sisters in blackface emerged earlier this year. None showed the governor.

But Thursday she apologized after audio emerged of a skit at a Baptist Student Union Party. The audio is a radio interview of Ivey and her then-fiance, Ben LaRavia. He describes Ivey as wearing blue coveralls and said she “had put some black paint all over her face.”

LaRavia in the interview said they were acting out a skit called “cigar butts” that “did not require a lot of talent, as far as verbal talent, but did require 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.”

n a statement, Ivey said:

“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.”

Reaction was swift.

Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said: “If she did that she is insensitive. She needs to step down. She needs to be governor of all people.”

“It is not acceptable any time or place. Do us a favor and step down.”

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, says Ivey should have held a press conference.

“I don’t care if it was 52 years ago or yesterday. She is the governor of the state of Alabama, which is still considered one of the most racist states in the U.S. This is who she was then. It is who she is now. I have nothing for her. I don’t accept her apology. She should have stood before the people of Alabama herself.”

“She should resign. I don’t thing she should have been elected, and I think she is a racist.”

What does it say to black Alabamians?

“It’s the realization that she is who she is,” Givan said. “Dr. Maya Angelou said ’when people show you who they are, believe them.”

“Just as she stood there in blackface, how many times has she said nigger. I’m going to say the word. That is the question black folk need to ask themselves today.”

“I am unapologetic for anything that I just said.”

Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, said young people do stupid things.

“Obviously, somebody found something stupid she probably did when she was in college and I’ll just say that I am so grateful that we didn’t have Facebook in the 60s and 70s,” he said. “People do stupid things when they are young. I know that I’m not the same person that I was when I was that age.”

Ball is chair of the ethics and campaign finance committee in the House. “And I don’t think Gov. Ivey is either and, you know what, nobody else is, either. One of the wonderful things about life is that we can learn and we can change over time. Our society has changed and we all change. Humans are dynamic creatures.”

Ivey, 74, has spent her life in politics going from the SGA in Auburn to elected statewide office, serving as State Treasurer from 2003 to 2011, as Lt. Gov. from 2011 to 2017 and then elected to a full term as governor of Alabama in 2018. She took office in 2017 after former Gov. Robert Bentley resigned when he was convicted of misdemeanor ethics violations.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said he had talked to Ivey today about the situation.

“First of all, I appreciate the governor for at least stepping out as it came to her attention and being willing to make an apology ahead of the story,” Singleton said.

“While this is something that could be painful for those of us in the African-American community, as someone who has worked with the governor and as lieutenant governor and who has built a working relationship with her, I am not apt to hold her totally responsible for something that happened 52 years ago.”

Singleton said he thought Ivey’s apology was sincere.

“Hopefully this can open up a dialogue for race relations in the state of Alabama and the governor can help lead that,” Singleton said.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in the state congressional delegation, reacted on Twitter. “Racism – in any of its forms – is never acceptable, not in the 1960s and not now. Governor Ivey’s actions were reprehensible and are deeply offensive. Her words of apology ring hollow if not met with real action to bridge the racial divide,” she tweeted.

State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said he received a call Thursday morning from Ivey’s chief of staff, Jo Bonner. Bonner told him that Ivey did not remember the incident but she would own up to it.

“I accept her apology and I really think that is all she can do,” Smitherman said. “My opinion on things like that is your actions will show where your heart is. That will show what kind of person she is.”

Smitherman said Ivey had been responsive to concerns about diversity on boards and agencies.

“I think it is very unfortunate that it happened,” Smitherman said.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan stood behind Ivey and issued this statement.

“The Alabama Republican Party appreciates and supports Gov. Kay Ivey taking ownership of and responsibility for this 50-plus-year-old incident. While it occurred when she was a college student, Governor Ivey has stood up, admitted her mistake and offered a sincere apology though she has no recollection of the event. Her extraordinary record of public service shows her ability to work with all people regardless of race, religion or party affiliation. We stand with Governor Ivey uniting our state for a greater future.”