Blackface at Fundamentalist U

So we’ve seen a lot of ugly racist yearbook photos lately. Sexist ones, too. I thought I’d take a look at Bob Jones University’s yearbooks to see how they stacked up. After all, BJU might just be the most famously racist university in the country. Yet the yearbooks don’t have much in the way of blackface and other minstrel-show racism. I think I have an idea why not.

It’s not that there aren’t any. In 1954, for example, there is a typically nasty blackface performing group featured. And some sort of hooded goings-on that I can’t figure out.

BJU VINTAGE 1954 blackface

From BJU’s 1954 yearbook.

And it’s not that BJU wasn’t frankly and unapologetically racist. Up through the 1970s, there were no actual black faces on campus, period. At least not as students. Change was slow, with the school refusing to renounce its ‘no-interracial-dating’ policy until the twenty-first century.

BJU VINTAGE 1954 white robes

Another from 1954. ????

Plus, the yearbooks are deeply racist in other ways. In its 1970 year book, for example, BJU brags of visits to campus by the likes of Ian Paisley and John R. Rice. At the time, Paisley was best known as the angry face of virulent, violent Irish anti-Catholicism. Rice’s pro-segregation theology had gotten him uninvited from other conservative schools such as Moody Bible institute. (I tell this full story in Fundamentalist U if you’re interested.)

But in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, I didn’t see any pictures of students in blackface or other racist garb. At least, not in the handful I looked at this afternoon. I might have missed it—take a look if you have the time and let us know what you find.

Why not? Why would America’s most famously racist college have yearbooks mostly free of ugly racist images?

Here’s my suggestion: Unlike Governor Northam, students at BJU were not given much wiggle room to express themselves in their yearbooks. Consider this senior-class page from 1965. The men all wear identical outfits and only list their names, hometowns, and lit-society memberships.

BJU VINTAGE 1965 201

Not a lot of room for individuality, even the racist kind…c. 1965.

In other words, unlike the wilder and woolier yearbooks of non-evangelical colleges, those at schools like BJU were tightly controlled from the top. When blackface faded out of polite culture, the editors of BJU’s yearbooks edited out of their yearbooks, too.

That’s my guess, anyway. What do you think?

Leave a comment


  1. Dan Marvin

     /  February 8, 2019

    I was there from 1976 to 1980 and never saw blackface, and I don’t think it would have been allowed. Their racism was far more subtle than that.

  2. sharonholdren1983

     /  February 10, 2019

    Dear Adam,

    As I said in my earlier replies I attended BJU between 1964-1969. As I remember this was the depth of the civil unrest regarding desegregation. The very nature of the physical campus and the stress on separation kept the student body isolated and ignorant of the facts of the controversies roilling the nation. However, the library was well stocked with current periodicals and a good cross section of newspapers. If you were unaware of how widespread civil unrest and pervasive discrimination was it was because you chose to be.

    My sophomore year the Administration installed an 8′ high perimeter fence. I felt it was offensive to the citizens of Greenville as we has never had an experience of trespassing by whites or blacks, and that’s it portrayed us as expecting trouble.

    In my high school graduating class there were 2 black students. My home town of Westerville, Ohio was not segregated. There simply were no black families who lived there. An old black man lived two houses down from my grandmother whose house was within walking distance for an 8 year old. As young child he taught me how to hold the reins of a showhorse bridle, the how and why of two bits and the importance of being kind. I have never since picked up my reins without remembering the gentleness in those beautiful black hands.

    At neither place did I see/hear any overt prejudice until I developed pneumonia near the end of my third year and spent several days in the campus hospital. There I became aware there were black nurse’s aides and while they were okay to carry our bedpans they were not acceptable to go to school with us. One year I took the bus home over Christmas break and saw segregated restrooms. I vividly remember the humiliation I felt at seeing no doors or stalls for the black women. There were black groundskeepers and many “Preacher Boys” fanned out on Sundays to black churches in Greenville. In the Literary Societies there may have been racist behavior, but I never saw any and my brother never referred to any in his. Saturday Chapel was naturally required, usually very casual and mostly consisted of skits presented by different Literary Societies. In my time at BJU I never saw anything remotely resembling “blackface.” My brother admitted to me he developed his animosity to black in the military toward the end of Vietnam. He never let go of it.

    When Dr. Bob, Jr. announced Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination he protested that he’d been misquoted, saying “I never said there was ‘no negro ghetto’.” I was aware that he was using a strong Negro dialect when he said it. However, Dr. Bob was famous for his ability with dialects and accents. I never occurred to me to regard this as derogatory. He spoke highly critically of anyone white or black whose behavior was disruptive of civil discourse. He let us know in no uncertain terms that if any BJU student were to be arrested (even at home over summer vacation) in a demonstration they would be summarily expelled. Admittedly I did not see this as infringement of my Constitutional rights at the time, only that that was not the way to get things done. We were encouraged to write our Congressmen, to attend local political rallies and, if old enough, to vote.

    When I was in Graduate school at the University of Kentucky (1972-1979), we had a male black librarian in the Law School Library. No one liked him as he had made himself singularly unlikable. However, one coworker would loudly say “Yes, I think everyone should own one. Oh, sorry, I meant a Lincoln.” We also had a particular black man (I never knew if he was a student), who regularly dressed as a field hand. He is also spoke in Southern or in urban street dialect. One way or another it was conscious effort to draw attention. Even there I did not see black face. I admit my friendship were made up mostly out of the numerous foreign students, many who expressed consternation at the level of racial tension. Many of the northern Europeans actively dated blacks. I confess I refused to date any of the African students, but I would date Asians.

    I an not happy with the knee jerk response to discover “Horrors!” that this was somewhat common behavior even thirty years ago. What black person did not refer to “honkies” at one time or another? I was a different person then that I am now. I would neither do or say now what I did then. As my sober, mannerly, soft spoken father would say when we stepped over the line: “I would not have in my hand what you have in your mouth.” My gentle Christian father was also a racist who took my platinum-blond sister out of kindergarten because a little black boy had expressed affection for her. However, when we were out a restaurant and a black family came in he would remind us they had as much right to eat there as we did. But just like us they were expected to remember our manners.

    I believe too many people are actively looking for reasons to be offended. I believe too many are too judgmental and unforgiving. And I also believe the current administration has provided aid and comfort to the domestic enemies of this country and that we have much longer road to travel and less incentive to seek harmony with anyone who holds a different opinion, is of a different color, or chooses to express different religious beliefs than we would have under a different administration. I also believe much of the unhappiness in our current social discouse lies directly at the feet “Evangelical” Christians, the stridency of their radio broadcasters (check out Bryan Fischer and Focus Forum), their “my way or the highway,” their rigidity of thought, their overt animosity to Barak Obama. It does not surprise me in the least that some on receiving end are willing to fight back with the same weapons.

    I hope somewhere along the line someone from a similar background chooses to comment or reply to me.

    On Fri, Feb 8, 2019, 2:45 PM I Love You but You’re Going to Hell Adam Laats posted: “So we’ve seen a lot of ugly racist yearbook photos > lately. Sexist ones, too. I thought I’d take a look at Bob Jones > University’s yearbooks to see how they stacked up. After all, BJU might > just be the most famously racist university in the country. Yet the” >


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