JACKSON, Miss. -- A white Republican running for Mississippi attorney general said Thursday that he is "embarrassed" about taking part in a college skit 40 years ago in which other actors wore blackface.
"I regret it very much," Andy Taggart told The Associated Press.
A photo in the 1979 yearbook for Mississippi College shows Taggart and three other white students depicting poker players during recruiting for a social club at the Baptist school. A person in blackface was speaking to them. Taggart was student body president that year. He said he took part in many skits in college but does not remember this one.
"It shows an insensitivity that is not consistent with my life and career," said Taggart, an attorney who has been prominently involved in Mississippi Republican politics for decades, including as chief of staff for then-Gov. Kirk Fordice in the 1990s.
The Democratic governor and attorney general of Virginia both came under sharp criticism this year after saying they had worn blackface in college in the 1980s.
Taggart in recent years has publicly advocated removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi state flag, saying it's divisive. Mississippi is the last state with a flag that includes the emblem. He said last week that the state flag, which has been used since 1894, should be "retired with dignity" and the people of Mississippi should choose a new design.
"It's not a coincidence that a windshield is way bigger than a rearview mirror," Taggart said. "It's because we ought to be spending a lot more time looking forward than looking back. And that has not always been true in our state."
The revelations about the Virginia officials having worn blackface during college prompted searches of yearbooks for other politicians. Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey's 1967 Auburn University yearbook showed a photo of five members from her sorority with black masks portraying "minstrels" in a rush skit, but Ivey said she was not in the photograph.
In Mississippi, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who is running for governor, was a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity at Millsaps College in the mid-1990s, and a 1995 yearbook photo showed KA members dressed in Confederate costumes. Reeves has not answered questions about whether he also dressed that way. Such costumes were commonly worn at KA Old South parties in Mississippi and other parts of the South for many years.
Mississippi's current attorney general, Democrat Jim Hood, is also running for governor. Hood joined Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of Mississippi in 1980. A photo on one of the fraternity's pages in the 1983 yearbook showed young white men with their bodies painted dark and their faces painted in different white and dark patterns. Hood said Feb. 12 that he was not in the photo and doesn't know what was happening in it but said: "It was inappropriate."
Taggart faces state Rep. Mark Baker and state Treasurer Lynn Fitch in the Republican primary for attorney general in August. In the November general election, the Republican nominee will face Democrat Jennifer Riley Collins, a retired Army colonel who is current executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.
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