Monty Mason ’89 yearbook pages depict Pi Lambda Phi ‘slave auctions’

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In a 1989 yearbook page featuring Senator Mason's fraternity Pi Lambda Phi, Mason is mentioned in an article that describes that fraternity's annual "slave auction." HEATHER BAIER / THE FLAT HAT

When Virginia Senator Monty Mason ’89 (D-Williamsburg) was an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, his fraternity — Pi Lambda Phi — organized annual mock “slave auctions” to raise money, as the 1989 edition of the College’s yearbook, the Colonial Echo, reveals. Mason is pictured and named in the yearbook on the Pi Lambda Phi page as part of a group fraternity photo, alongside descriptions of these auctions.

During the “slave auctions,” audience participants would bid money on the fraternity pledges, who would perform an hour of hard labor after being “bought” by the highest bidder. In 1989, when Mason was a senior at the College, the Pi Lambda Phi yearbook page included a description of their annual slave auction.

“The Pi Lam pledges had another enjoyable year as always,” the text in the 1989 Colonial Echo said. “Through the annual slave auction and the spicy bratwurst sales, the pledges raised over $2000 for the fraternity. This money would be put to good use in repaneling the fraternity walls and hopefully buying a new cooling unit for beverages.”

“The Pi Lam pledges had another enjoyable year as always,” the text in the 1989 Colonial Echo said. “Through the annual slave auction and the spicy bratwurst sales, the pledges raised over $2000 for the fraternity. This money would be put to good use in repaneling the fraternity walls and hopefully buying a new cooling unit for beverages.”

 

The slave auctions were mentioned in an earlier 1988 yearbook on Pi Lambda Phi’s page. HEATHER BAIER / THE FLAT HAT

Mason represents the 1st district in the Virginia Senate, which includes the College. Despite the language in the yearbook spread, Mason denied that the auction put on by his fraternity brothers to raise funds was called a slave auction at all.

“We called it a pledge auction to raise money for our fraternity,” Mason said in an email. “I have no idea who is responsible for using other terminology to describe it in the Colonial Echo. I washed cars to fulfill my fundraising obligation.”

In 1988, when Mason was a junior, the Colonial Echo also included a description of the Pi Lambda Phi slave auction.

“The pledges did a great job of raising money for the house, the slave auction alone raised $1150.00,” the 1988 Colonial Echo said. “The fraternity, as a whole turned out to be a great place to hangout and to gather a few laughs along the way.”

Pi Lambda Phi has been inactive since 2002. However, they were far from the only fraternity to engage in the slave auction ritual. Descriptions of mock slave auctions hosted by fraternities appear frequently in the Colonial Echo and The Flat Hat, at least from 1966 until 1991. Other fraternities that took part in the mock slave auction tradition include Pi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

PiKA’s 1988 yearbook page includes photos of the brothers participating in the slave auctions that are also mentioned on Senator Mason’s Pi Lambda Phi fraternity page. HEATHER BAIER / THE FLAT HAT

 

PiKA’s 1987 yearbook page includes photos of the brothers participating in the slave auctions that are also mentioned on Senator Mason’s Pi Lambda Phi fraternity page. HEATHER BAIER / THE FLAT HAT

At the College, Mason serves on the Challenge 1 Strategic Planning Committee and previously served as Chairman of the Athletic Educational Foundation. The College awarded Mason with the Young Alumni Service Award in 2002. Mason also resides in Williamsburg and regularly visits campus, usually in coordination with events hosted by the Young Democrats.

Young Democrats President Cody Mills ’20 and Young Democrats Outreach Chair and Class of 2020 President Kelsey Vita ’20 said that they were disappointed and disturbed by the revelations, that they unequivocally condemn Mason’s actions and that he would not be invited back to Young Democrats events. They also called on Mason to resign, along with other top Virginia democrats who are facing similar revelations.

“It’s really disgusting because as members of the Democratic party we’re really advocating for a more democratic America and the values espoused here [by Mason] are so antithetical to that,” Vita said. “These actions were racist then and they’re racist now.”

“It’s really disgusting because as members of the Democratic party we’re really advocating for a more democratic America and the values espoused here [by Mason] are so antithetical to that,” Vita said. “These actions were racist then and they’re racist now.”

Friday, Feb. 8 the Young Democrats released a public statement emphasizing that Mills and Vita were speaking only for themselves and not for the organization when they called for Mason’s resignation. According to the statement, a miscommunication lead Mills and Vita to act hastily and misinterpret the facts surrounding Mason’s involvement in the slave auctions.

The College’s Student Assembly has also been working on a resolution, called the Higher Standards Resolution in which they address the revelations about Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s past with blackface. Sen. Anthony Joseph ’21 and Vita, the two main sponsors of the resolution, said that they would be re-evaluating whether they need to amend the resolution over the weekend. Joseph said that Mason’s actions were appalling and will affect the College community moving forward.

“What’s egregious is because of institutional racism this is forgotten,” Joseph said. “The picture is still there but we move on and these people are celebrated. It undermines the great work that the people of William and Mary are trying to do.”

Class of 2021 President David DeMarco ’21 said that he considers Mason’s actions to be deplorable, and that he would like to see all the evidence carefully considered.

“This is something that [is] going to hit the heart of William and Mary,” DeMarco said. “We are really in an identity crisis. We have a past that we really haven’t reckoned with yet and we should hold Monty Mason to the same standards we hold other politicians to.”

“This is something that [is] going to hit the heart of William and Mary,” DeMarco said. “We are really in an identity crisis. We have a past that we really haven’t reckoned with yet and we should hold Monty Mason to the same standards we hold other politicians to.”

Editor’s note: In a previous Young Democrats public statement — retracted and replaced with the current statement — the Young Democrats said that they were presented with erroneous information by Flat Hat reporters. The Flat Hat wishes to clarify that the Young Democrats were provided with all photos published in this article and all other relevant information prior to publication. The Young Democrat’s revised statement now reflects that they were not provided with any incorrect information.

Variety Editor Heather Baier contributed reporting for this article.