ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A candidate for the Alaska House of Representatives wore blackface makeup at a 2012 Halloween party as part of a costume he said depicted an “inspiring” movie character.

Republican Mike Cronk said he went to the party at the Tok Lodge Bar dressed as Madea, a black character featured in a series of films by actor and director Tyler Perry, KTUU-TV reported Thursday.

The retired teacher is running to replace Republican Rep. Dave Talerico in House District 6, which includes the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

KTUU-TV published photos of the event showing Cronk in blackface.

“It was a Halloween party and I was to come to it as an inspiring fictional character that no one would recognize,” Cronk wrote in an email. “Madea was created as an inspiring and humourous (sic.) character by Tyler Perry that I enjoyed watching on tv.”

Cronk, a survivor of the October 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, would not discuss whether he believed wearing blackface makeup was appropriate or if he regretted the decision as protests against racial injustice continue nationwide.

Democrat Taryn Hughes, another candidate for the Alaska House in District 5, was also at the party in Tok. She did not appear in blackface.

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“I’m not proud of it, I knew it was out there,” Hughes said. “This is the process of unlearning. This is the process, it’s ugly, but it’s really important to own it. I own it. I regret it obviously, but I’m not going to pretend I didn’t have some unlearning to do.”

At the time, Cronk and Hughes were employees of the Alaska Gateway School District. Cronk continues to serve on the district’s school board.

The practice of blackface minstrelsy took hold in New York City in the 1830s and became immensely popular among post-Civil War whites.

White men would darken their faces to create caricatures of black people, including large mouths, lips and eyes, woolly hair and coal-black skin. The performances would stereotype black men and women as ignorant, hypersexual, superstitious, lazy people who were prone to thievery and cowardice.

Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South took their name from a character played by blackface performer Thomas Dartmouth Rice.