Program on UVM “Kakewalk” to Be Held Thursday

The Center for Cultural Pluralism will host a program this Thursday to educate the UVM community about the controversial Winter Carnival tradition of the “Kake Walk” at UVM, which consisted of fraternity members imitating a dance competition of black American origin. For over 70 years, two fraternity members at UVM dressed in full costume and blackface and imitated the dance wherethe couple with the most outrageous moves would be rewarded with a slice of cake. After being condemned by the Vermont Cynic in 1964 for wearing blackface, the Kake Walkers returned the following year in “Green Face.” The shade of green was practically indistinguishable from the old blackface and the tradition was ultimately banned in 1969 after continual criticism from the Cynic and student body. Now, over three decades later, the Center for Cultural Pluralism is trying to make sense of the tradition this Thursday in Billings Student Center from 6:30 – 9 p.m. “The program is intended to raise student awareness of overt and covert forms of discrimination and to explain why some people are offended by this practice,” said Sherwood Smith, director of the CCP. Miriam French, co-owner of Fire and Metal Goldsmiths, who grew up in Burlington, remembers when the Kake Walk wasn’t just a thing of the past. “The Kake Walk was an unconscious sort of racism,” French said. As late as the mid-1990s there have been reports of UVM alumni getting together to view screenings of the performance “for old time’s sake.” “I can see how this sort of spectacle may have drawn a crowd 100 years ago, but to think that people perpetuate this type of thing to this day is truly disturbing,” said senior Emily Horsburgh. A showing of Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled,” and a presentation by Willi Coleman, Chair of ALANA Studies from the College of Arts and Life Sciences, will follow Thursday’s discussion.