As the University of Virginia continues to fixate on its long-past history of racism, a new controversy is emerging: Is the name of the UVa yearbook, “Corks and Curls” racist? And should the name be changed?
Here is the explanation offered in the inaugural edition of the publication in 1888, as summarized by the Washington Post, quoting Kirt von Daake, a UVa history professor:
Editors note that the name, “this cabalistic phrase,” must be “almost meaningless to an outsider.” The editors then present an essay explaining the name, written by a fictitious student, von Daacke said. “Cork” was used to evoke “the real agony of the unprepared student,” who, when called on in class, “sitteth and openeth not his mouth, even as a bottle that is corked up.”
“Curls” was attributed to a legend about an ambitious student who, when praised by a visiting George Washington, seemed “as pleased as a dog when he is patted on his head” and curls his tail in delight.
… Starting in the 1860s, U-Va. publications, letters and diaries contain references to corking and curling as academic slang.
But Princeton history professor Rhae Lynn Barnes has a different theory. She has written that UVa’s yearbook got the name from blackface traditions, referencing “minstrel slang for the burned cork used to blacken faces and the curly Afro wigs that were signature costume pieces.
So… Back when UVa’s student body overwhelmingly shared the racist views of most Southern whites and had not the slightest inkling of controversies that would erupt a century later, the editors of the 1888 “Corks and Curls” chose to conceal the derivation of the name? That’s a stretch.
But Daake suggests the name might have conveyed a double meaning, and the double meaning might have referred to minstrel blackface, and minstrel blackface was racist. On that basis, the Post quotes a Cavalier Daily news editor who believes that most students will “feel passionately” that the yearbook’s name should be changed.
There is evidence aplenty of racism during the Jim Crow Virginia. It is a history of which Virginians should be ashamed. But the need to impute racism to every word and deed reflects the 21st-century obsession with race more than the 19th-century obsession.There are currently no comments highlighted.