Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ college yearbook showed members of his fraternity in what appeared to be blackface and dressed as Confederate soldiers and referred to him being “at the Robert E. Lee bar” at a time when the fraternity’s racism was a major issue on campus.
Reeves, the front-runner to become the Republican nominee for governor, was a sophomore at Millsaps College when he joined the Kappa Alpha fraternity in 1993 and remained a member through graduation, even as the fraternity came under scrutiny for its overt racism.
In the 1995 edition of Millsaps’ yearbook, a photograph of Reeves appears next to a photo of five other members in fraternity T-shirts and what appears to be blackface — three of them also wearing Confederate flags on their heads — and another showing dozens of members dressed as Confederate soldiers.
The American Ledger could not verify whether the students were in blackface, but local and student newspapers reported at the time that Kappa Alpha members had dressed up in black paint and Afro wigs.
The fraternity’s reputation for racist displays was so bad that, while Reeves was a member, its members were barred from displaying the Confederate flag and were forced to get sensitivity training.
The 1996 Millsaps yearbook featured Kappa Alpha members dressed as Confederate soldiers as well as an apparent reference to Reeves in the fraternity’s list of inside jokes: “Are Justin and Tate at the Robert E. Lee bar?”
In 1993, the Kappa Alpha’s spread in the yearbook included a photo of two members who appeared to be dressed in blackface and grass skirts at a fraternity “luau.”
Reeves has held statewide office since 2003, when he was elected state treasurer. In 2011, he was elected lieutenant governor, and is the runaway favorite to be the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in November’s election.
A Mason-Dixon poll released Wednesday showed Reeves with a 53-point lead in the GOP primary but indicated a dead heat between Reeves and Jim Hood, the Democratic attorney general, in the general election.
In Reeves’ time in the Kappa Alpha fraternity, it was singled out by the Black Student Association for its outward displays of racism.
In 1994, the association’s president asked the administration to suspend Kappa Alpha and another fraternity after an altercation between members and black students on the Jackson, Miss., campus.
“Black students accused white members of the Kappa Alpha and Kappa Sigma fraternities of making white pledges wear Afro wigs and tie large Rebel flags around their necks Saturday morning,” the Clarion-Ledger reported at the time. “Some pledges had also painted their faces black.”
Black students said the fraternities were sending an explicit message about the racism that was “endemic to the fraternity system,” the school newspaper, The Purple & White, reported.
Weeks before the incident, one of those black students, Kiese Laymon, then the opinions editor of the newspaper, called out Kappa Alpha in a column.
Likening the fraternity to the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, Laymon wrote, “At Millsaps, I know we’ve overcome racism, and if the word ‘n–––––’ is ever muttered, it could only be echoed from the walls of the Kappa Alpha house.”
After an investigation, the college’s president, George Harmon, prohibited Kappa Alpha from using the Confederate flag, suspended it and another fraternity from hosting social events, and forced members of both to attend sensitivity training.
It was not clear whether Reeves appeared in Confederate garb or blackface at Millsaps, but he has not run from his affection for Confederate symbolism in his political career.
In 2013, he spoke at a conference of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that erects (or fights to preserve) Confederate monuments and has argued that slavery wasn’t the cause of the Civil War.
“Sons of Confederate Veterans brought hundreds of visitors from out of state to Vicksburg,” Reeves wrote on Facebook. “Remembering our history and the lessons learned should be passed to future generations.
Reeves continued to support Mississippi’s use of the Confederate flag after some southern Republicans abandoned it in 2015, when a neo-Confederate gunman killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C.
After South Carolina’s leaders said they would remove the flag from the Capitol grounds, Reeves said in a statement, “No symbol or flag or Web site or book or movie made him evil.”
Reeves has also said Mississippians shouldn’t apologize for their state’s past, which includes slavery, widespread lynching and institutional racism.
“I believe strongly that in many instances we need to stop apologizing and start bragging about Mississippi’s many great accomplishments,” Reeves said in 2017.
On Tuesday, bills in the Mississippi Legislature to change the state’s flag — the last to incorporate the Confederate emblem — died when they weren’t considered before the deadline, The Associated Press reported.