Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has apologized for making a racist joke on Twitter last month.
Falwell’s tweet was ostensibly an attack on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s order that people in Virginia wear a face covering when in public establishments to stop the spread of the coronavirus infection. Falwell, who opposes wearing masks, posted an image of a facial covering he said he would wear. It featured a picture of a person in blackface and another in a KKK hood.
Along with apologizing on Monday, Falwell deleted the May tweet. However, it was preserved in screenshots:
The image on the mask comes from an old medical school yearbook, which some allege shows Northam in blackface. The governor claimed it was not him in the picture, but apologized for wearing blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume in another incident from the same period.
Nearly three dozen Black pastors, ministry leaders and former athletes ― including several former NFL players ― who graduated from Liberty sent Falwell a petition that was co-signed by thousands more on Change.org.
It read in part:
“The KKK robe and hood and blackface face mask tweet may seem funny to you, but this tweet is the action of a political commentator or activist and is not fitting nor acceptable for the leader of one of the largest Evangelical Christian schools in the world. A review of your social media and statements during your presidency would lead many to believe that you care much more about politics than Jesus Christ, Evangelism, and the discipleship of students.”
Several staffers at the university also quit in protest:
Falwell originally refused to apologize for the tweet.
“Look at my Twitter, and I hope everybody buys one,” he said in an interview with Eric Bolling.
Falwell’s stance changed this week after facing increasing pressure from within his own university.
“I have deleted the tweet and apologize for any hurt my effort caused, especially within the African American community,” Falwell wrote.
In addition to apologizing, Falwell said he might make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday at the school, local CBS station WDBJ7 reported. Although the day is already a holiday at both the federal and state level, it is not currently recognized by Liberty University, which used that date in 2016 to host an event by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.