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Kake Walk Infamous Part Of Past

Published: Thursday, December 13, 2007

Updated: Saturday, March 14, 2009 18:03

Only 33 years ago, the long-standing UVM tradition of the Kake Walk came to an end after heavy criticism from the NAACP among others. Through the 1960's many UVM students were adamantly opposed to the idea of the abolishment of the Kake Walk.

The Kake Walk consisted of the main event "Walkin' fo' da' Kake", along with skits with popular titles as "Nigger Heaven" and "Koon Klux Klan". In the first half of the last century posters for the Kake Walk had such titles as "The Kullud Koon Kake Walk".

UVM's Kake Walk was a mockery of the Cake Walk performed by slaves.

The Cake Walk was a dance performed by slaves at the request of their master to entertain his guests. The one who the master deemed the funniest would receive a slice of cake.

The Kake Walk and festivities of the winter festival were completely managed by the Inter-Fraternal Counsel (IFC), which consisted of members from every house in UVM's Greek communinity.

In "Walkin' fo' da' Kake" 15 pairs, two members from each fraternity, competed for the cake. They wore Blackface, a shiny black lacquer that was applied to the face of the contestants, along with white make up around the eyes and mouth, and nappy hair. The pairs would perform choreographed walks that required a great deal of flexibility and balance.

The contestants would dress in costumes, at times one member of the pair would dress in a black suit with a silk top hat and the other dressed as a women. The anthem that the "Walkin' fo' da' Kake" was set to was named, "Cotton Babes".

The Kake Walk was the title to the winter festival that was held on a weekend every February.

The events that made up the weekend changed from year to year, the mainstays were; The Kake Walk Ball/ Masquerade Party, a Kake Walk parade, snow sculpture contest between Greek houses, skits, and a jazz festival on Saturday afternoon (late 1950-1960).

Administrators would, most of the time, overlook the drunken behavior the came with the festivities.

Almost every year a sign would be hung on the statue of Ira Allen which read, "No Dry Kake Walk".

The Kake Walk started as a substitution for a military ball in 1893. The event was given little attention by the faculty and the majority of the students.

The year after, 1894, the Kake Walk was held in the Loft of the Old Mill building; this event was far from the winter festival it was to become in years to follow. There was no Blackface or lavish costumes; it was an impromptu walk off where the cake was eaten well before contestants were awarded. The night was enhanced with a keg of beer, the morning after it was found that the beer had leaked through the floor into the old chapel below.

This outraged the faculty who banned the Kake Walk for two years, 1895 and 1896. In 1897, the Kake Walk was reinstated to raise money for the university's football team, this time as an official contest and with Blackface.

Throughout the years the Kake Walk and the winter carnival became a large source of revenue for the university. It was almost taboo for a student to condemn the Kake Walk.

In 1912 this quote appeared in this very newspaper, The Vermont Cynic, "Any Man who dares not to take enough interest in his college to enter--and do that back-bending, knee-bending, glorious old Vermont walk--is unworthy to be a son of Vermont and should have his diploma denied to him at the end of his four year sojourn here."

Many thought of the Kake Walk as a civic duty; in wartime years all profits from the weekend's festivities were donated to the Red Cross. Many justified the walk as a "celebration of negro culture."

The Kake Walk became so popular that Life magazine covered it in 1952 and the national media covered the event on a yearly basis from the 1950's on.

In 1964 the NAACP formally criticized the University of Vermont for the Kake Walk and the surrounding events.

1965 was the first time since 1897 that Blackface was not worn by the contestants; a dark green face paint was worn instead.

This was the IFC's response to the NAACP's criticism. Many complained that the change had accomplished nothing; that the Kake Walk would perpetually discriminate no matter what cosmetic changes were made to the event.

Many others were angered that the spirit of the Kake Walk was lost in losing the Blackface.

In 1969 the university finally abolished the Kake Walk and other related events. This was much to the distain of many of many students, who tried to reinstate the event by holding the event privately.

Throughout the 1960's the Cynic opposed the Kake Walk. "Continuous criticism by The Cynic resulted in the event ending completely."

While today many are aware of the Kake Walk and its infamy in UVM's past, they are unaware of the significance of the event to the university.

It was the single biggest event of the year; professors would cancel classes and libraries would close on days surrounding the Kake Walk.

The whole university would shut down and devote all of its attention to the event.

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6 comments Log in to Comment

Thu Jan 7 2010 12:25
You are a jerk first class. You were not even there. There was never an attempt to down grade blacks it was an 108 year tradition which at the time was the oldest winter carnival in the country. As usual a few people destroyed that. You have no idea how much money that event brought in to UVM to support student activities. How much alumni money came into the Alumni donation fund. Then the football team left then baseball and then tried to go to Div 1 hockey you got to be kidding.(Joke)

UVM is a shadow of what it once was, never get a dime of my money

Centennial field is a disaster the highest state land grant institution in the country for cost of education

Tue Dec 15 2009 22:36
I am supposed to believe that white frat boys imitating black slaves at a kegger is a sincere tribute to black history? Well, Chris, William, and VMR, I'm sure you'll be happy to know that most frat boys haven't changed.
Tue Sep 15 2009 01:04
Poor Willie Logan, another white victim. Boo Hoo. Can't a white man just mock a minority and enjoy himself any more? I am sure he really believed that the blackface was paying homage to blacks. Most of the frat boys involved in Kake Walk weren't Vermonters, but flat landers up from NY and NJ.
Fri Aug 28 2009 20:25
Whoever wrote this article is a product of the times. This piece demonstrates how young people with a pre-established and pre-determined viewpoint can distort history so blatantly. I was a student at UVM from 1963 through 1968 and attended evry Kake Walk staged during those years. They were thrilling competitions which "honored" not degraded the black cultural history in the US. If the Cynic offered "continuous criticism" then they did so in small print at the end of the paper. Kake Walk week issue was the largest of the year and contained tributes to both past and currnet participants. Nicholas Rahaim must have a point he wishes to make, but truly misses the mark with most of us who were there.
Christopher Coughlin
Thu Aug 27 2009 21:15
I graduated from UVM in 1967, and lived in the UVM community for several more years, since i was married to a graduate teaching instructor. I remember well Kake Walk and the fantastic choreography and skits, and also the controversy about the festival. When Kake Walk was finally officially ended, attempts to hold private kake walking competitions were met by holigans with baseball bats. Underlying much of the critcism of Kake Walk was not just racial sensitivity, but also a staunch anti-Greek sentiment by a significant portion of UVM's student body.
william Logan
Mon Mar 30 2009 18:14
I attended UVM from 70 to 74, and remember the history of Kake walk. As is tradition in the US the only traditions we HAD in our culture seem to be politically incorrect to some minority of some ancestry. Consequently, today, our children have no cultural knowledge except what the minorities allow. We have black history month, yet, no White history month.
Proof came two years ago when my 19 year old son attending college was approached by a Frat member trying to recruit him to attend Kake Walk week. The Frat member when questioned had no clue what was the tradition of Kake Walk.
Simply put another American Tradition dies because of political correctness. Perhaps President Obama will give our White nation a pass on this one and bring back the Kake Walk

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