Briana Harris, a junior at historically-black Virginia State University, got an unusual campus job this past semester: for six hours a week, at $25 dollars an hour, Harris combed through Virginia school yearbooks looking for images of white people doing anything culturally insensitive.
From February until June, Harris joined a small team of scholars who worked with local community organizer Chelsea Higgs Wise on a yearbook project inspired by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam's blackface scandal. In February, everyone saw Governor Northam’s medical school year page prominently featuring one man in blackface and another in a KKK robe. Northam admitted and then denied that he was one of the two men pictured. He later admitted that he actually did wear blackface to pretend to be Michael Jackson in a dance competition.
Higgs Wise raised over $7,000 on GoFundMe and was determined to launch a project that would empower black students like Harris to take part in Virginia’s political discussions around race, accountability, and leadership. The initial goal was to create an archive and call out whoever they found.
Every week, the students met to swap strategies and share discoveries that from the 1920s up until the seventies and eighties. By the end of the process, they cataloged over 380 examples of offensive images and words. VICE News went to Richmond to follow the students through the program and to see the images they found.
This segment originally aired June 20, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.