Va. university temporarily removes online versions of yearbooks with blackface

A Virginia university has temporarily pulled yearbooks featuring blackface from its digital archives, according to The Washington Post.

Hollins University President Pareena G. Lawrence announced Tuesday that editions of the Spinster, the university’s yearbook, would be temporarily removed from its website until Hollins can add information putting the images in context. The yearbooks are reportedly still available in print editions on the Roanoke campus.

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“Regardless of the year and time, the intent, or the context, these materials are hurtful and disturbing, and they do not embody the values of our community,” Lawrence said Tuesday, according to the Post. “In an effort to limit the damage and pain those depictions might cause in our community, I have decided that for the time being, we will not exhibit the entire collection of The Spinster digitally.”

Multiple universities have scoured their archives for blackface and other racist imagery in the wake of the discovery that one such image appears in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) 1984 medical yearbook page. Northam has apologized but rejected calls to resign and has not clarified whether the person in blackface in the picture is him.

A coalition of university librarians and members of a group working to address the continued impact of slavery has pushed back against the move, saying it sweeps the problem under the rug.

“While we support President Lawrence’s goals of sharing educational information about the history and practice of blackface, learning from this history, and evolving as an institution and society, we cannot and do not support any erasure of institutional history, even if only temporarily,” the Hollins University "Working Group on Slavery and Its Contemporary Legacies" and the school’s Wyndham Robertson Library said in a statement.

“Archival materials, records, they represent a record of our history, and when you remove materials, you censor them,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, interim director of the American Library Association’s intellectual freedom office, told the Post. “Erasing history solves no problems and simply hides the past from us, so that we can’t learn from it ... so that we can’t remedy any harms from the past.”