Mistakes and poor judgment from the past should remain there

By CHARLIE DUNAGIN,

A great thing about the Christian faith is you’re not held accountable — at least in God’s eyes — for mistakes of 30 years ago if you have repented.

Not so in politics.

In today’s ridiculously strident world of judgment on the internet and round-the-clock television, no one is immune from character assassination even if it’s for  some silly act which seemed  harmless when it occurred.

Digging up old high school and college annuals to find something embarrassing about a political opponent has become a popular tool in opposition research.

State politics in Virginia were thrown into crisis mode  after someone discovered a racist photo in Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook. 

Northam initially said he was in the photo of a person wearing blackface next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe; then he denied it, while saying he did wear blackface to a dance party that same year.

Northam’s attempts at apologizing and changing stories only brought him more criticism and demands that he resign.

To make matters even worse, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, an African-American who would succeed Northam if he resigned, now stands accused by two women of sexual assault in the 2000s.

Fairfax has vehemently denied the claims and called for authorities, including the FBI, to investigate.

The next person in line of succession, Attorney General Mark Herring, also has been discovered to have worn blackface while in school.

As the Associated Press put it:

“All three scandals involve events that happened long before these leaders took office, but they’ve become a full-blown crisis for Democrats. The party counts on the support of black voters and has taken an almost zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct in the ‘MeToo’ era. A housecleaning could be costly:

If all three resign, Republican state House Speaker Kirk Cox would become Virginia’s governor.”

Meanwhile, here in Mississippi, pages from college annuals of the two presumed leading candidates for governor, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic Attorney Gen. Jim Hood, have been dusted off, copied and printed in the media.

Reeves was a member of Kappa Alpha at Millsaps College, and Hood was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha at Ole Miss when they were in school.

Both fraternities showed students in blackface and other images which are inappropriate in today’s world of political correctness on pages in the school annuals.

Both Reeves and Hood wisely decided not to personally go on an apology and explanation tour.

Reeves’ spokeswoman, Laura Hipp, provided this statement to the media: “As a quick Google search will show, Lt. Gov. Reeves was a member of Kappa Alpha Order.

“Like every other college student, he did attend costume formals and other parties, and across America, Kappa Alpha’s costume formal is traditionally called Old South in honor of the Civil War veteran who founded the fraternity in the 1800s."

Margaret Ann Morgan, spokeswoman for Hood, said the attorney general is not pictured in the photograph in question.

I doubt those annuals are going to be an issue in Mississippi — certainly not like what’s going on in Virginia.

They shouldn’t be.

A person’s overall record and present conduct are far more important than a snippet of behavior long ago – especially behavior that was acceptable then, but not now.

Personal disclaimer: I’m not running for office, and maybe that’s a good thing if they are going to start judging folks on school annuals.

Back in the 1950s at Petal High School, I was a member of the Future Farmers of America, a school organization that put on an annual minstrel show. I confess to having appeared in blackface.

I wouldn’t do it if I were a student today. But I did several stupid things at 16 and 17  I wouldn’t do today.

The point is I turned out to be neither a farmer nor a racist.

As a journalist a decade after high school,  I was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan for trying to fairly report on the civil rights movement.

 

Charlie Dunagin is a Petal native and member of the Petal High School Hall of Fame. Now retired and living in Oxford, he was the longtime managing editor of The Enterprise Journal in McComb, a sister newspaper of The PineBelt NEWS.