ELON — Elon University said a review of its yearbooks turned up a number of racist, offensive and insensitive photographs over the years.
In a news release posted on its website late Friday, Elon said librarians and archivists found two photos of white male students with painted faces from yearbooks published in the 1950s. Elon didn’t produce the photos, but said it’s unclear why the students painted their faces or if they actually appeared in blackface.
The university said its review found numerous yearbook photos of students posing with Confederate flags but no instances of students wearing white Ku Klux Klan robes or hoods.
Elon said its yearbooks from 1916 to the early 1940s have “highly objectionable illustrations, crude cartoons and some blackface ‘minstrel’ shows.” The 1942 issue of Elon’s Phi Psi Cli yearbook uses the theme “In the Land of Cotton” and throughout shows idealized images of black life in the rural South during the 19th century.
In yearbooks published since the 1960s, the review found instances of Native American cultural appropriation. Those photos showed Native American imagery in student talent and variety shows and Elon sports teams playing other schools with Indian mascots.
Elon didn’t admit its first black student until 1963. Elon’s first black graduate got his degree in 1969.
“I find it painful to look at these hurtful racial stereotypes and consider the experience of our African-American and Native-American employees, and later students, during these periods of Elon’s past,” Elon President Connie Ledoux Book said in a statement.
“Taking an honest and courageous look at our history will strengthen our understanding of not only our past, but of who we are today and who we want to be in the future. These visuals strengthen our resolve and our commitment to equality — at Elon and beyond.”
Elon said Book ordered the review after recent news reports about blackface and Klan imagery in other college yearbooks.
UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, the University of Virginia and the University of Richmond are among the schools that published yearbooks with racist imagery, according to recent media reports.
This firestorm was set off late last month when a picture surfaced of two men — one in blackface, the other in a Klan robe — in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page of future Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
Elon’s yearbooks dating back to 1913 are available online at the Digital NC website. The university said it has no plans to take down the books because they have value as historical documents that show Elon’s and the community’s past.
“I want to be clear that preserving this part of our history in no way means that we condone prejudices, racial stereotypes and offensive depictions of cultures,” Joan Ruelle, dean of Elon’s library, said in a statement.
Elon’s review comes as the university dives deeper into its past. The university formed the Committee on Elon History and Memory last year to examine its institutional history.