The Aftermath of the Kake Walk

February 24, 2016

Jeffrey Blais ‘71 walked for the Acacia fraternity in the final Kake Walk of 1969.

“I remember going and watching [the Kake Walk] as a freshman and just thinking how marvelous it was,” Blais said.

Blais said he was chosen by his fraternity to train for the 1969 show, though no one knew that it would be the last one at the time.

“It was a very arduous training program for someone who wasn’t in terribly good shape,” he said.

It was a very arduous training program for someone who wasn’t in terribly good shape.”

— Jeff Blais Acacia walker, 1969

Blais said he doesn’t recall any opposition to the Kake Walk in 1968, but it “became very controversial” during its final year.

The last Kake Walk was accompanied by complaints from minority students, but participants attempted to dismiss opposition by citing the long-standing tradition of the event, he said.

To protest the racist nature of the event, Phi Gamma Delta performed without any makeup at the last Kake Walk, which Blais congratulated them for.

In the aftermath of the 1969 Winter Carnival, Blais said ending the Kake Walk “was a real learning experience for the whole community.”

UVM Special Collections
Two fraternity members in blackface for the 1959 Kake Walk.

People began to question what they were doing, and why, he said.

The black community at UVM was exceptionally small at the time, Blais said, but they were a leading voice protesting the Kake Walk.

“There was a forceful voice that this had to stop,” he said.

In February 1970, Blais served as the assistant treasurer for the new winter weekend, a film and music festival that would replace the Winter Carnival. The next year, he served as the treasurer of the event.

Blais said these weekends were “not raging successes like Kake Walk always was.”

While the 1970 film festival did better than expected, it was not financially successful, Blais said.

He said he was grateful the University supported it as an alternative to the Kake Walk, despite losing money on it.

“The Kake Walk was very lucrative,” he said. “It paid for itself.”

The Kake Walk was very lucrative. It paid for itself.”

— Jeff Blais Acacia walker, 1969

Blais said while he was sure the University was concerned about reduced revenue, they were “adamant” that the new winter weekend take place.

“We were not going to revert — we just couldn’t,” he said.

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