William & Mary yearbooks show ‘slave auctions’ for Greek Life

As politicians are poring over old yearbooks for any old indecencies, the College of William & Mary has started to do the same.

College spokeswoman Suzanne Clavet said President Katherine A. Rowe requested an auditing of all the school’s yearbooks this past week to search for photos or mentions of potentially racist material.

“This review will help inform a deeper understanding of William & Mary’s racial history as we work together as a community to ensure this is the kind of respectful and welcoming campus we want and expect,” Clavet said.

The school’s yearbook, The Colonial Echo, dates back to 1899, half a decade before the college was even integrated

Clavet said the questions regarding the topic could not be answered on Friday due to the events of Charter Day.

The audit for William & Mary comes after mentions of “slave auctions” were found in yearbooks from 1987-1989 by the school’s newspaper, The Flat Hat. It also comes after a week of political firestorms that fell on the highest officials in the state — Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook; allegations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax; Attorney General Mark Herring’s revelation that he once wore blackface, and the discovery that Senate majority leader Thomas K. Norment being managing editor of Virginia Military Institute’s “The Bomb” yearbook, which featured multiple blackface photos and racist nicknames and slurs.

Some of the mentions of “slave auctions” involve W&M’s chapter of the Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity, of which state Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, was a brother and chapter president in 1989.

Mason serves the Peninsula’s 1st Senate District which includes James City County, York County, the City of Hampton, the City of Suffolk, the City of Newport News and all of the City of Williamsburg, according to the senator’s website.

“My fraternity and others across campus held pledge auctions as fundraisers. The yearbook language is a disappointing mischaracterization of the event,” Mason wrote in an email.

William & Mary is joining other universities in Virginia that are auditing their yearbooks for signs of racist references.

On Tuesday, Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk announced it would begin a transparent investigation into racist photos found in previous yearbooks.

The yearbooks feature descriptions of the fraternity’s activities throughout the years, which included a “slave auction” which raised $1,150 in 1988 and approximately $2,000 in 1989.

The national Pi Lambda Phi organization did not immediately respond for comment. The Psi chapter of Pi Lambda Phi became inactive in 2003, according to the fraternity’s website.

Pi Lambda Phi was not the only fraternity to host “slave auctions.” Photos from the yearbook also show members of Phi Kappa Tau hosting a similar event.

“The brothers cheer on ‘slaves’ at the auction,” the photo’s caption said. “(Brothers) watched as Phi Mu’s bid on the healthy young bodies that were presented.”

Phi Mu is a sorority that still maintains a chapter at the college.

In addition, the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha has photos from their slave auctions where captions show students expressing discomfort with the activity.

“Some people think the slave auction is demeaning, but the Pikas take it all in stride,” the photo caption said.

The auditing of the yearbooks is currently underway, Seurattan said.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.