Officials react to deputy mayor wearing blackface in photo

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St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray and City Councilman Brian Myers condemned the actions of Deputy Mayor Kent “Spanky” O’Dell on Monday after a picture of O’Dell wearing blackface at a Halloween party in 2012 resurfaced over the weekend.

“Well, as I’ve said, I don’t condone that kind of behavior,” McMurray said. “And I was shocked to see that picture, particularly in today’s times.”

Myers called for a public apology from O’Dell, who posted a statement on Facebook, but declined to comment for this story.

“Regardless of when the photo was taken, it is my belief that Deputy Mayor O’Dell owes the community an apology,” Myers said. “As a white person, it is not up to me to decide what is or isn’t offensive to a person of color.”

In his Facebook post, O’Dell said he “didn’t have a racist bone” in his body.

“I had Halloween parties every year and 8 years ago I chose to go as the character Aunt Jemima,” O’Dell said. “I sure would have never done this knowing I was offending anyone and especially my African-American friends.”

O’Dell also said a “certain person” had brought the picture up “in a negative way.”

A person who attended the party in 2012 told News-Press NOW that the atmosphere was normal and she hasn’t heard O’Dell make any racially insensitive remarks.

“The atmosphere was the same as it always had been for the past 25 years of Halloween parties, which is a crowd of diversity!” Tara Mignery, who appears in the picture alongside O’Dell, said. “(I’ve) never heard a ‘racial’ comment from him. He has always had better things to talk about. “

McMurray said O’Dell was elected by his fellow city council members to the position of deputy mayor, and he couldn’t be removed from that position except by a recall vote from St. Joseph voters.

According to the city’s charter, a recall petition can be filed after 25 registered voters submit affidavits and gather certain documents from the city’s clerk. Those petitioners must then gain the signatures of 10% of registered voters throughout the city. Should the petitioners meet that bar, a recall election would be hosted within 30 to 90 days.

In 2007, students from Northwest Missouri State University faced sanctions after they wore blackface to parties. In 2019, the University of Missouri fired a campus police officer after he was seen in a photo wearing blackface. 

Canadian Prime Minister and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam have also faced backlash for their appearance in blackface photos. Both have retained their jobs. 

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