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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

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Kakewalk at the University of Vermont

Like so many racist practices in America, Kakewalk was a product of the Nadir of race relations. Begun as the Nadir was getting underway in 1890, the university dates its formal establishment from 1893. Always spelled with three Ks, it paid homage to the Ku Klux Klan, which white supremacists considered “saved white civilization” by ending Reconstruction. The rise of the second KKK in the 1920s included a massive rally in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital, larger than any other meeting or rally every held there.

At UVM, Kake Walk consisted of three main competitions: snow sculptures, skits, and “A Walkin’ fo’ de Kake,” the kakewalk itself. The skits and sculptures were not always racist, but often they celebrated the KKK, lampooned Native Americans, or made fun of the way African Americans allegedly talk. (Of course, many Vermonters had never actually heard an African American talk.)

See “Black Image in White Vermont,” chapter 19 of The University of Vermont: The First Two Hundred Years, for Loewen’s essay on Kakewalk.

Some of the above appeared in an article in the Rutland Daily Herald 2/18/1990, “‘A-Walin’ Fo’ De Kake:’ The History of Kake Walk.”

Also see a thorough account of Kakewalk in the UVM student newspaper. The newspaper followed it up with an account of race relations “After the Kake Walk.”