A naked man held out a window, upside down by his ankles, drug paraphernalia, “slave auctions” and annual speeches to secede from the Union are just a handful of the things that can be found in some of the yearbooks at the College of William and Mary.
Between 1951 and 1984 — The years the Virginia Gazette examined — the college’s yearbook, the Colonial Echo, chronicled student life, including Confederate fraternities; sororities and fraternities holding “Slave-a-Day” or “slave auction” fundraising events; hard partying; and hazing.
The events of long ago have come to the fore after images on a yearbook page for Gov. Ralph Northam showed a person in blackface standing next to a person in Ku Klux Klan robes. The pair held canned drinks.
The controversy engulfing Richmond has trickled down to both state senators representing the Williamsburg area.
In 1968, Sen. Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment, R-James City, was the managing editor of The Bomb, the Virginia Military Institute yearbook. It has since been found to contain racist and racially insensitive photographs and text.
While Norment apparently was not in any of those photos, as managing editor he oversaw production and content of the yearbook with other editors.
“The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it,” Norment said in a statement. “As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry or word on each page. However, I am not in any of the photos referenced on pages 82 or 122, nor did I take any of the photos in question. As my comment on Page 236 notes, I supported the integration of VMI. And in 1997, I led the effort to have my alma mater include women for the first time.”
Over at William and Mary, in 1989, Pi Lambda Phi fraternity had this to say about the school year: “As the saying goes, ‘we’re just a bunch of fun-loving guys trying to check out a good time and a couple of laughs in the ’Burg,’” reads the end the yearbook entry that mentions a “slave auction.”
State Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, was president of the fraternity in 1989.
The “slave auctions” were revealed this week in a story written by the school newspaper, The Flat Hat. As part of that story, members of the college’s Young Democrats called for Mason to resign his Senate seat; they retracted those calls Friday.
Young Democrats President Cody Mills said in a statement that the information provided by the Flat Hat reporter that resulted in his initial statement was “erroneous” and that the organization did not ask for Mason’s resignation.
“We regret that we responded too quickly and without verification of the facts alleged by the Flat Hat reporter,” Mills said in a statement. “We look forward to discussing this and other issues important to our community with Senator Mason.”
The entry in the Colonial Echo claims the fraternity’s pledges raised more than $2,000 for the organization between a “slave auction” and the sales of “spicy bratwurst.”
However, Mason said he takes issue with what’s written in the yearbook.
He called the event a “pledge auction,” where fraternity members and pledges would be auctioned off to do a task for a person to raise money for the fraternity.
“I remember when I did it, there was a party among all the fraternities and sororities and you had groups of people — I washed a car and they (the people he did the work for) cooked hot dogs and hamburgers,” Mason said.
“I'm disappointed that the number of times across the yearbook it was referred to as a slave auction,” he said, nearly 30 years after he graduated. “This was a pledge auction, period, (slave auctions) was something I'd never taken note of or seen.”
The only direct reference to Mason in the fraternity’s page-long description of the year’s activities said he had helped the fraternity get to the finals of a touch football tournament.
But fundraisers using “slave” appear in yearbooks before Mason was born; it appears to be used more frequently in the 1980s than other years.
In 1984, the Colonial Echo published an in-depth description of one of the “slave auctions” where fraternity members were “sold” to women in the audience, similar to a bachelor auction.
“The gentlemen of SAE were sold individually to the women in the audience at such exorbitant prices as $20-$25 each,” the yearbook stated. The event raised money for a nonprofit group.
“Some women including Bridget Kealey seemed to bid on all of the men up for auction. When asked what she hoped to do with her acquired ‘Slaves’ Bridget responded that she had some dusting and cleaning to be done, but her main reason was that the money was ‘all going to charity anyway.’”
The Greek life coordinator at the college referred all questions to the William and Mary public relations department.
Yearbooks under audit
What else is in the yearbooks? Events including a “pimp and prostitute” party, a “Pearl Harbor” party, Confederate parades with proclamations of secession from the Union and parades with images of white students in Native American garb all make appearances, although most lack descriptions.
In one image in a 1982 yearbook, a limp, naked man is held by his ankles upside-down, out a window with this caption: “Remember when? Those bygone days of freshman year were far in the past for seniors. These members of the class of ’82 spent their first year on Hunt 2nd and will never forget this stunt.”
Clavet said she would be unable to answer specific questions about whether or not the “slave auctions” were sanctioned by the school, or questions about drug paraphernalia or hazing incidents that appear in the yearbooks until next week.
On Monday morning, Katherine Rowe announced that Northam would no longer attend the school’s Charter Day activities or her official inauguration held Friday, due to the controversy surrounding him and the images in his yearbook.
“It has become clear that the governor’s presence would fundamentally disrupt the sense of campus unity we aspire to and hope for with this event,” Rowe said in a prepared statement. “We have conferred with the governor’s office, and he will not be part of Friday’s program.”
As for the yearbooks, she has asked the University Archives to audit all of the yearbooks, according to college spokeswoman Suzanne Clavet. The review has already begun.
“This review will help inform a deeper understanding of William and Mary’s racial history as we work together as a community to ensure this is the kind of respectful and welcoming campus we want and expect,” Clavet wrote in an email.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.