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Legion commander resigns after blackface incident

Photo by Eric Tichy Pictured is the Samuel L. Derby American Legion Post 556 in Frewsburg.

FREWSBURG — The commander of the American Legion post in Frewsburg resigned after a Halloween party held over the weekend included two people dressed in blackface costumes.

Both individuals, seen in photographs widely shared on social media, also resigned as members of the Sons of the American Legion.

A spokesman for the American Legion confirmed that Commander James Rossing of Samuel L Derby Post 556 stepped down on Tuesday.

“The American Legion was outraged to learn that two individuals wore blackface during a Halloween event at one of our posts,” the organization told The Post-Journal in a statement. “The American Legion Department of New York conducted a full investigation. As a result of the investigation, it received the resignation of the Post 556 commander the next day. He is also no longer a member of The American Legion.”

Post 556, located at 9 Meadow Lane, hosted the Halloween party Saturday that was sponsored by the Carroll Rod and Gun Club. Afterward, the club shared photos that showed two people dressed in white clothing with red vests and hats and carrying prop lanterns. The two individuals also are seen wearing black gloves and black face coverings with enlarged lips and eyes.

The costumes appear to match Black lawn jockeys, often viewed as a symbol of racism.

The two individuals were not members of the American Legion but they were members of the Sons of the American Legion. Members of the nonprofit organization include males whose parents or grandparents served in the U.S. military and were eligible for American Legion membership.

Though the two were not identified, the American Legion said they also resigned this week.

“There is no place in the American Legion Family for racist activities or behavior,” the organization said.

The Carroll Rod and Gun Club released a statement on Monday on its Facebook page regarding the Halloween event. It read: “We would like to acknowledge the controversy some people have taken over a recent Halloween Costume party. We are a private club which consists of over 1,100 members of ALL ethnic groups, of which were in attendance that night.”

The club later took down its Facebook page.

The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University addressed lawn jockeys — statues that depict a caricature, sometimes in blackface, wearing horse-racing attire and holding a lamp or a hitching ring.

In 2020, Franklin Hughes with the Jim Crow Museum discussed a social media post that attempted to justify the statue’s use by saying they were used on the Underground Railroad.

In a Q&A on Ferris State University’s website, Hughes said it’s possible that people may have used lawn jockeys to guide slaves to freedom.

“However, there is no evidence that this practice was commonplace,” he said.

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