Blackface Scandal Spreads to Mississippi and Its Republican Gubernatorial Candidate

Tate Reeves of Mississippi, the next cookie on a growing plate of pols with unsavory racist connections in college. Photo: Rogelio V Solis/AP/REX/Shutterstock/Rogelio V Solis/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In what was perhaps the most predictable collateral finding flowing from Virginia’s epidemic of white politicians appearing in or publicizing blackface appearances, it turns out that Mississippi’s Lieutenant Governor and likely Republican nominee for Governor, Tate Reeves, was a member of a college fraternity famous for such shenanigans, along with a general devotion to neo-Confederate emblems. Chad Smith has the story for American Ledger:

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.

Reeve’s fraternity was regularly in hot water for racism, as Huffpost discovered:

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

There’s no photographic evidence, so far, of Reeves’s personal involvement in racist incidents, but he clearly wasn’t allergic to racism if he chose and stayed in KA, as anyone who went to college on a white southern campus in recent (or distant) decades can attest. In an extensive review of fraternity/sorority racism, Kate Dries had this to say about the frat:

Besides SAE, the worst reputation for racism belongs to the Kappa Alpha Order. KA considers the leader of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee, its “Spiritual Founder” and features his “definition of a gentleman” on its website. At Auburn University, KA reportedly holds its personal celebration of Robert E. Lee on Martin Luther King Day every year, which one student referred to as “particularly disturbing.” (The states of Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi do this as well — as King’s birthday was January 15 and Lee’s was January 19 — though not without controversy). This is a fraternity that, until recently, encouraged its chapters to hold an “Old South” or “Old Dixie” formal every year, where brothers have been known to dress up as Confederate Civil War soldiers, accompanied by dates who wear antebellum-style dresses

To outsiders, chapters of KA and SAE look surprisingly comfortable with displaying rampant racist tendencies. They appear equally comfortable with actively discouraging black men from joining their organizations.

This, mind you, was written in 2015. You can imagine how uninhibited such fraternities were in Mississippi two decades earlier, not long after former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke made a strong race for Governor in next-door Louisiana.

There’s no telling who might next get zinged as journalists, oppo researchers, and amateur sleuths continue to trawl through old yearbooks and newspaper articles. Racist behaviors, particularly blackface “costumes” and skits, haven been epidemic on college campuses all over the country — not just in places like Mississippi, where old times are not forgotten. And, we are all gradually realizing that they are too recent to be considered anything other than relevant right now.

Blackface Scandal Spreads to Mississippi Lieutenant Governor