One week ago today, it came out that Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia had apparently posed in either blackface or as a Klansman in his medical school yearbook. Northam waffled on the issue, at first claiming responsibility and then the following day suggesting that it wasn’t him. Even then, he copped to posing in blackface in at least one other instance, while dressed as Michael Jackson at a Halloween party in the 1980s. Soon thereafter, the Attorney General of Virginia Mark Herring released a statement admitting that he, too, had once worn blackface in the 1980s. Both men are dealing with the fallout of these revelations in different ways, and that is a problem for Virginians to reckon with.
In North Carolina, though, a similar scandal is simmering, but it really isn’t a scandal at all. Reporter Colin Campbell, while searching through old UNC Chapel Hill yearbooks, stumbled across a disgusting display of racism from one fraternity’s photos in 1979.
Randomly flipped through the 1979 UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook today just to kill some time, and found this photo on one of the fraternities’ pages. Holy shit. pic.twitter.com/jDjaMLAFl1— Colin Campbell (@RaleighReporter) February 6, 2019
Now, our state’s Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper, attended Chapel Hill and is actually featured in this same yearbook. He was a member of Chi Psi, a similarly named but quite different fraternity than the one of which the above students were members. In fact, his picture appears later on, and the photos of his peers in Chi Psi focus more on sports, and certainly not lynchings, fake or otherwise.
Unfortunately, a couple of outlets have picked up this photograph, its tenuous connection to Governor Cooper, and linked the two together. An article from the Daily Mail, a British rag, seems to suggest that there is some connection between Cooper and this photo, calling it “Roy Cooper’s yearbook.” The article makes clear that the Governor is not featured in the photograph, nor in anything vaguely resembling the horrible actions depicted in the racist photographs above, but the headline is a different story. Unfortunately, headlines like the Daily Mail’s — “Blackface lynching pictures from UNC Chapel Hill 1979 yearbook emerge – the same year NC Gov Roy Cooper graduated – just days after HE called on Virginia Governor to resign over racist photo” — imply some culpability on his part for attending the school at the same time something terrible like this occurred.
Where that drivel left off, conspiratorial right-wingers on Twitter picked up. Jacob Wohl, who is famous for peddling these types of lies, ran with the article and shared the following tweet yesterday:
BREAKING: Racist picture of Democrat North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper emerges just days after he called on Ralph Northam to resign -Daily Mail pic.twitter.com/oc5Dacx1r9— Jacob Wohl (@JacobAWohl) February 7, 2019
The photo — with its entirely false caption — has collected over 3,000 favorites and thousands of retweets. It is the pinnacle of fake news. That some would try to promote this as a real picture of Governor Cooper is, sadly, unsurprising, but unacceptable nonetheless.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.