'Horrific part of our past:' 1979 UNC yearbook photo depicts blackface, KKK

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Sunday, February 10, 2019
Blackface controversy over old photos at UNC
Blackface controversy over old photos at UNC

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina -- Old, racially charged photos from the University of North Carolina's 1979 yearbook that surfaced on social media sent shockwaves through the campus Thursday.

UNC fraternity members were clearly hamming it up and having fun posing for a depicted lynching in yearbook photos from 1979. A shot shows one white fraternity member in blackface and two others wearing Ku Klux Klan garb.

The students were members of Chi Phi Fraternity, and in one of the images, a noose was tied around the neck of a student in blackface, while a rope was hanging from a chandelier. Another published photo also had white students in blackface.

Current students reacted Wednesday to the actions of those UNC alums.

"That's actually very disrespectful. It's never OK," said student Austin Paschal. "Forty years ago, I can guarantee almost all the schools in the South were doing this."

"Upsetting. It's pretty embarrassing," said student Barkley Browder.

Chi Phi was established at UNC before the Civil War and it is still around today. The organization's white frat house sits prominently on Columbia Street.

The national organization is responding to the photos.

"We strongly denounce the behavior and sentiments displayed in these images. Bigotry is not welcome in our Fraternity," said Chi Phi Executive Director Michael Azarian.

"We were disheartened by that," said UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

"That's a horrific part of our past, one that I think has no place then or now in our university system," said UNC System Interim President Dr. William Roper.

An editorial in The Daily Tar Heel from that time said the pictures were taken during an "Old South" party. The writer remarks how "these photographs crystallized the racism that permeates this university."

Some students told Eyewitness News that racial undertones remain on the campus despite the removal of the Silent Sam Confederate monument.

"We are in the South. There still are active KKK things around," Paschal said.

Other students agreed.

"Some people still support that even on this campus today. It's something you can't hide, can't ignore it, but it's nothing be proud of," said student Veronica Griffin.