Fact Check

Does America Have More Governors Who Have Worn Blackface Than Black Governors?

The question gets at the heart of whether an African American currently leads the executive branch of any state in the United States.

Published Sep 24, 2019

This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him. (Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP) (AP)
Image Via AP
The U.S. has more governors who have worn blackface than actual black governors.

No African Americans currently govern any of the 50 U.S. states, which makes a tweet by an activist both arresting and accurate: More governors exist who have worn blackface than there are black governors in the U.S., tweeted civil rights activist Samuel Sinyangwe in late August 2019.

In 2019 alone, two governors, Ralph Northam of Virginia and Kay Ivey of Alabama, respectively a Democrat and Republican, both apologized for wearing blackface decades ago during their college years.

Given that "two" who admitted to wearing blackface is more than "zero," we rate this claim "True."

Blackface stems from minstrel shows in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, in which white performers darkened their faces and acted out demeaning and dehumanizing portrayals of African Americans. Although it is highly offensive, news reports occasionally arise of high-profile white celebrities or politicians who made it part of a Halloween costume or performance.

In recent history, the U.S. has had two elected black governors. Deval Patrick served in Massachusetts from 2007 to 2015, while Douglas Wilder served as governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994. In 2008, David Paterson, who was serving as the lieutenant governor of New York, succeeded then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned amid a prostitution scandal.


Khalid, Asma. "50 States and No Black Governors, but That Could Change in 2018."   NPR. 18 May 2018.

Desmond-Harris, Jenée. "Don't Get What's Wrong with Blackface? Here's Why It's So Offensive."   Vox. 29 October 2014.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more