Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) was a member of a college fraternity that was known for pro-Confederate displays and run-ins with black students.
Reeves, who is running for governor in this fall’s election, was in Kappa Alpha Order at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. A 1993 yearbook lists him as a freshman that year, and he was featured as a Kappa Alpha member starting in the 1994 yearbook. The fraternity, which is still active at Millsaps, looks to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as its spiritual leader.
On Oct. 8, 1994, members of Kappa Alpha and another fraternity “donned Afro wigs and tied large Confederate flags around their necks,” according to an article in The Clarion-Ledger at the time. Some of them were also reportedly in blackface. The fraternity brothers “got into a shouting match” over the incident with some black students. The state fraternity leader defended the chapter, saying it was “getting a bad rap” and blamed a few rogue individuals.
Members of the Black Students Association asked for the fraternity to be suspended.
One of the students leveling the charges against Kappa Alpha was Kiese Laymon, the opinions editor of the student paper. Even before the incident, in August, Laymon wrote a piece about Kappa Alpha’s reputation, lumping the fraternity in with the KKK and neo-Nazis in their love of the Confederate flag.
“At Millsaps, I know we’ve overcome racism,” Laymon wrote sarcastically in a column, “and if the word ‘nigger’ is ever muttered, it could only be echoed from the walls of the Kappa Alpha house.”
In response, a month later, the paper published an anonymous letter from a Kappa Alpha member who acknowledged Laymon was right about the attitudes of his fraternity ― but said that, privately, not all of them were racist and sexist and did want things to change.
In 1995, the Kappa Alpha yearbook page showed a group of students standing with a Confederate flag in military attire. It’s not clear if Reeves is in the photo, although he was also pictured as a member of the fraternity that year.
The images were first uncovered and published by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge on its website, the American Ledger.
In the 1993 yearbook, before Reeves pledged, the fraternity’s page showed students in a form of blackface, mocking Pacific Islanders ― with darkened faces, wearing grass skirts and leis ― and wearing Confederate flag paint.
College yearbooks are coming back to haunt politicians.
Three of Virginia’s top state officials are currently embroiled in scandals about their use or acceptance of blackface. It started with the governor’s yearbook page, featuring a photo of two men, one in blackface and one in a KKK outfit. (Democrat Ralph Northam insists he isn’t one of the men pictured.) Since then, the Democratic attorney general has admitted to once wearing blackface at a college party, and the GOP leader of the state Senate edited a college yearbook containing racist pictures and slurs.
Even if they’re not pictured in blackface, they seemed to gladly accept a privileged white culture that found entertainment in the racist pastime.
Reeves’ office did not return requests for comment about whether the lieutenant governor ever appeared in blackface or Confederate attire, and to give his thoughts on his fraternity’s behavior.
The Mississippi gubernatorial primary is on Aug. 6.