WASHINGTON (AP) -- Furious over accusations of racism leveled at
Sen. John Ashcroft, Missouri Republicans contend that a 39-year-old
newspaper photograph of Gov. Mel Carnahan in blackface shows
Carnahan is not the progressive Democrat he claims to be.
The 1960 photo unearthed by the state GOP shows Carnahan, who is
challenging Ashcroft for his Senate seat in 2000, as part of a
white quartet wearing black makeup in a minstrel show.
The race issue emerged after Ashcroft successfully led efforts
in the Senate on Oct. 5 to reject the nomination of Ronnie White,
the first black member of the Missouri Supreme Court, to a federal
White's supporters say race was a factor, while Ashcroft
maintains his concern was White's fitness for office, mainly his
record in death penalty cases.
Research turned up the photo in the Rolla Daily News, the
governor's hometown paper, Missouri GOP executive director John
Hancock said in an interview Sunday.
A glossy print of the photograph and a copy of the clipping
dated Oct. 12, 1960, were provided to The Associated Press by a
Republican source on condition of anonymity. It shows Carnahan,
then 26; his brother, Bob, and two other men performing at a
Kiwanis Club fund-raiser.
Hancock denied a hand in the distribution of the picture. "A
lot of people know about it," he said. "I'm guessing somebody
might have had enough. I've had it e-mailed to me. It's out on the
Internet. It's a shocking photo."
"I know a little bit about it, because I'm a ragtime pianist
and a historian of that whole era," he said. "Minstrelsy isn't
lighthearted. It's one of the most degrading, derogatory mockeries
of an entire race of people that has ever existed.
"It bothers me when they inject race into politics, where it
doesn't belong, when their own leader has this kind of sorry, sorry
record," Hancock said.
Roy Temple, Carnahan's campaign adviser and executive director
of the Missouri Democratic Party, said the picture represents the
last time such a show was performed for the Kiwanis Club. At the
urging of Carnahan's brother, he said, the civic service group in
1961 abandoned the minstrel performance in favor of a variety show.
By that time, Carnahan's father had become the first U.S.
ambassador to the new African nation of Sierra Leone.
Racial sensitivity in Missouri has progressed vastly since 1960,
Temple said. "To put it in context, there were people like Frank
Sinatra and Bob Hope doing these things in the major entertainment
media," he said.
"John Ashcroft can't defend what he did to Ronnie White, so
he's trying to attack Mel Carnahan," Temple added.
The governor did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.
Arvarh Strickland, the University of Missouri's first black
professor and a one-time judicial adviser to former GOP Sen. John
Danforth, said Carnahan should be judged solely on his public
"Whatever was in his heart then, it's what's in his heart now
that matters," Strickland said. "It's not what he was doing or
saying in 1960, but his record as governor of Missouri that he
should be evaluated on. When you look at his record, you certainly
would not expect to see Gov. Carnahan in blackface."
The only black Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Carson Ross, said
Carnahan should apologize.
"The Klan wore hoods and these folks wore blackface," he said.
"It was racist. An intelligent person does not consciously do
something like that. He needs to repent."