Missouri governor apologizes for 1960 blackface skit

Monday, October 25th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Gov. Mel Carnahan apologized Monday
for appearing in blackface at a minstrel show 39 years ago, and
lashed out at Republicans for unearthing a 1960 photo of the

"I feel like I've grown," said Carnahan, a Democrat who is
challenging Republican Sen. John Ashcroft for his Senate seat in

"I certainly regret my participation in this kind of theater,
and I sincerely and readily apologize for my insensitivity of 39
years ago," the 65-year-old governor added.

Carnahan said he should be judged on his record, including
legislative sponsorship of a state civil rights law in 1965 and the
appointment of the first black Missouri Supreme Court judge in

That judge, Ronnie White, was rejected for a federal judgeship
on Oct. 5 after Ashcroft told the Senate that White was soft on the
death penalty and "pro-criminal."

Carnahan accused Ashcroft, stung by allegations of racism for
his role in defeating White's nomination, of responsibility for
circulating the photo.

"Senator Ashcroft is counting on Missourians to be unable to
see any difference between the insensitivity captured in this
photograph four decades ago and the polarizing acts he committed on
the Senate floor just days ago," Carnahan said.

Ashcroft spokesman Steve Hilton had no comment about Carnahan's

Carnahan, who was elected governor in 1992 with substantial
black support, said Monday that he had called black leaders to
apologize. He would not identify them.

The executive director of the Missouri GOP, John Hancock, said
research turned up the photo in the Rolla Daily News, the
governor's hometown paper.

Hancock denied having any hand in distributing the photo. 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.

The photo shows Carnahan, then 26; his older brother, Bob; and
two other men performing as a barbershop quartet at a Kiwanis Club
fund-raiser. The menwore tuxedos and blackface makeup with
exaggerated white circles around their eyes and mouths.

Carnahan said he was "uncomfortable" about wearing blackface
at the time, but was the newest member of the group and didn't
challenge the costume.

"Looking back, that's what I wished I'd done," he said.

Carnahan said the minstrel shows were a longtime tradition in
Rolla, but he never again wore blackface after the 1960s show and
his brother, Bob, moved to end the blackface performances after
that show.

"I said we ought not to be doing that sort of thing," Bob
Carnahan, 73, said in telephone interview Monday. "Obviously it
was racial, and I told the club I couldn't participate in the
minstrel show anymore and didn't think our quartet should."

Black Missourians interviewed at St. Louis Union Station said
they weren't perturbed by the photo.

"It's just so old," said Scott Jackson, 20.

Latascha Bond, 18, who plans to vote for the first time next
year, said she wasn't dissuaded from casting her Senate ballot for

"He did this in 1960," she said. "That doesn't mean he'll do
it in 1999."