Mississippi’s two most powerful leaders in Washington declined to weigh in on reports that the state’s lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, belonged to a fraternity whose members dressed in blackface and Confederate uniforms.
Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans, have yet to comment on the revelation, which has drawn national attention to the state’s gubernatorial race, which will likely pit Reeves, a Republican, against Jim Hood, the Democratic attorney general.
Wicker and Hyde-Smith’s spokesmen did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The American Ledger and Huffington Post reported last week that when Reeves was a member of Kappa Alpha at Millsaps College in the 1990s, the fraternity’s yearbook pages showed members in blackface and Confederate uniforms.
In 1994, Reeves’ junior year, the college administration suspended the fraternity from hosting social events, banned it from using the Confederate flag and ordered members to attend sensitivity training after members waving the Confederate flag — some reportedly in blackface and Afro wigs and using the N-word — got into a fight with black students.
Hood acknowledged Monday that, in the 1980s, his fraternity at the University of Mississippi also published photos of members in blackface.
“We did all kinds of stupid stuff in college. I admit that,” Hood told Mississippi Today. “The question, though, for us as Americans is, ‘What’s somebody’s record afterwards? What have you done?’ I made the DA’s office look like Mississippi, I made the AG’s office look like Mississippi. I’ve fought for working people, no matter if they were black or white.”
Reeves has been more defiant, saying his membership in Kappa Alpha wasn’t newsworthy.
“I was a member of Kappa Alpha. We had a statement that touched on that on Friday, but I think most y’all have known that for years and years,” Reeves said at a news conference Tuesday, Mississippi Today reported.
When asked if he had ever worn a “hood or robe,” apparently referring to a Ku Klux Klan outfit, he cut off the reporter, saying: “How many questions are y’all going to ask? Y’all have asked, and I have answered it.”
Last week, Reeves’ spokeswoman said, indicated that Reeves joined his fellow members in wearing a Confederate uniform to the Kappa Alpha’s annual dance, formerly called “Old South.”
“Like every other college student, he did attend costume formals and other parties, and across America, Kappa Alpha’s costume formal is traditionally called Old South in honor of the Civil War veteran who founded the fraternity in the 1800s,” the spokeswoman, Laura Hipp, said.
Reeves also defended speaking at a Sons of Confederate Veterans event in Vicksburg where a speaker compared the Civil War to the Holocaust.
“The African American mayor of the city of Vicksburg also spoke to that group and welcomed them to Mississippi and thanked them for spending money in our state,” he said of the 2013 speech. “The fact of the matter is that the national park in Vicksburg is a tourist attraction that attracts thousands and thousands of people to Mississippi every single year, and I think that we ought to look at ways to attract more tourists to Mississippi.”
A speaker at the same event said what the “damned Yankees did was wrong as much as what the Nazis did to the Jews during (World War II),” according to a blog post by an attendee.
According to the blog post, which was unearthed by the Jackson Free Press on Wednesday, Reeves thanked the group for coming to Mississippi and “congratulated the SCV for keeping history alive for our youth,
“He encouraged everyone to tour the historic battlefields to help us understand the events which led brother to fight brother and the terror the civilians felt waiting for the fighting to stop. Lt. Gov. Reeves was given a standing ovation.”
Hyde-Smith has had her own issues dealing with race in a state where there are constant reminders about slavery and the Confederacy.
During her Senate campaign last year, she referenced lynching in a lighthearted remark about a supporter.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” she said in a campaign stop in Tupelo.
A week later, a 2014 Facebook photo of her wearing a Confederate soldier’s hat re-emerged.
“I enjoyed my tour of Beauvoir. The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library located in Biloxi. This is a must see. Currently on display are artifacts connected to the daily life of the Confederate Soldier including weapons. Mississippi history at its best!” she wrote in the caption, referring to the president of the Confederacy.