By Tribune staff
There’s a long, ugly history of white fraternities and yearbook staffs at various universities participating in racist behavior. A new wave of national attention regarding this situation was initially generated by a 1982 yearbook photo of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school class. It showed one man in blackface and another wearing Klan robes. Northam at press time has refused demands to step down from his post as Governor.
The Northam photo prompted a USA Today investigative search of a host of 70s and 80s college yearbooks which has uncovered hundreds of racist photos. One of those featured Tennessee’s brand new Governor Bill Lee. He was shown wearing a Confederate army uniform during his ‘70s student days as a member of Auburn’s Kappa Alpha fraternity in a salute to the “Old South.” The Governor has since issued an apology for that photo.
This week current Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk publicly revealed he was a member of that same fraternity while at Wake Forest in the ‘80s. In addition, he disclosed there’s a photo of him in a setting where the Confederate flag is being prominently displayed. He has also apologized for that photo.
The Tribune’s attitude regarding such behavior is simple. There was no place for it in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and there remains no place for it today. It should always be condemned, particularly the use of blackface, and any homages to the “Old South.”
But it is both foolish and politically ignorant for anyone to demand Glenn Funk’s resignation strictly on the basis of actions done 37 years ago. No one’s excusing youthful ignorance, but there’s nothing anyone can do about it now. You won’t find too many people who didn’t do dumb things when they were young. Unless it was something criminal, we learn from them and hopefully move on to become better people.
Another reality is many colleges and universities, whether in or out of the South, thought nothing of having “Old South” parties, events where people showed up in blackface, and parading the Confederate flag at various functions and rallies. Anyone who saw SEC football or basketball games during the ‘60s can remember when students at various schools waved those flags as acts of defiance against integrating their campuses. But none of that has anything to do with District Attorney Glenn Funk in 2019.
District Attorney Glenn Funk’s track record as a DA is far superior to that of his predecessors, particularly in the areas of employment. Where they could only find 1 or 2 Blacks and constantly made excuses that they couldn’t find qualified Black attorneys to hire, either locally or nationally. District Attorney Glenn Funk has recruited and hired Black men and women attorneys to his staff, and not just for show. There are 5 Black males, 5 Black females, 2 Hispanic males and 2 Hispanic females.
He has also been steadfast in not covering up difficult issues involving police misconduct. His decision to charge police office Andrew Delke with criminal homicide in the shooting of Daniel Hambrick was a courageous one, and got him accused by Delke’s attorney of having “declared war on the police department.” The vast majority of District Attorneys would have reviewed the evidence collected by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and simply ruled it a justifiable shooting, anxious to avoid any possibility of conflict with the police.
Perspective and good judgment should be exercised when evaluating someone’s past and present actions. It is right to call attention to past misdeeds, and right for those involved to publicly admit their mistakes and apologize.
But in the District Attorney Glenn Funk case, he made the decision to publicly disclose what happened. He didn’t try to hide it or explain it away, but apologized for it.
The Kappa Alpha fraternity has banned the wearing of Confederate uniforms since 2010, and no longer celebrates or even uses the term “Old South.”
Incidentally, another person whose name turned up in USA Today’s yearbook search is their current editor Nicole Carroll. She was the 21-year-old editor of Arizona State University’s 1988-89 yearbook which included a photo of two whites in blackface, one pretending to be Mike Tyson, the other wearing a wig and pretending to be Robin Givens. Carroll has issued a formal apology for that picture.
No one is calling for her resignation from USA Today, or that Governor Lee plans to step down. He could follow District Attorney Glenn Funk fairness to the Black community statewide by hiring Blacks in those top level positions and increase the number of Blacks in state government.
So there’s no reason for District Attorney Glenn Funk to do so either, especially when he’s demonstrated the most concern for opportunity and fairness in the DA’s office of anyone in the Tribune’s 26 year plus history.
This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Tribune.