An Apology for My Blackface Experience

Kathryn is behind me in our version of Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings.

The blackface here is my former wife Kathryn, who was playing the part of Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings. I was Jefferson.

The host of the early 1980s Halloween costume party we attended in Old Southwest Roanoke asked us to show up as a famous couple. Kathryn and I narrowed the choice to Jefferson/Hemings, Rock Hudson/Gomer Pyle, and Bernie Taupin/Elton John.

Kathryn did not want to play a man, so we did Hemings/Jefferson. When we got to the party (the hosts were Hollins political science professor Jake Wheeler and his wife, Trudy), there were four other couples portraying Hemings/Jefferson, at least partly because there was a new book out about their relationship.

The people at the party were not goofball rednecks. As I recall, everybody was white, successful professionals. They weren’t stupid or overtly racist. It simply never occurred to us that what we were doing was wrong and there was nobody there to tell us so. We would have listened, I believe.

I never really considered the blackface as good, bad or indifferent until the bruhaha with Gov. Ralph Northam and now, I’m convinced we were wrong to dress as we did, regardless of what others did. I will take responsibility because I suggested Hemings/Jefferson, put the blackface on Kathryn and it was my suggestion that she wear it. Kathryn was and is a good woman, sensitive, caring and considerate. I am sure this would mortify her today if she has not forgotten it.

Tear this entire admission apart, if you’d like, but I apologize for my part in it. Sincerely.

Kathryn (in blackface) and Trudy Wheeler at the Halloween party.


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