Gov. Bryant is member of Confederate heritage group

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Gov. Phil Bryant

When a Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans state officer requested a gubernatorial proclamation designating April as Confederate Heritage Month, the request was fulfilled by a fellow member – the governor.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who has held public statewide office since 1996, is a member of Rankin County’s Lowry Rifles Camp #1740 of the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), an SCV officer confirmed to Mississippi Today.

That membership makes him the most prominent sitting public official in the United States who is a known member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the SCV and similar groups.

“He doesn’t attend regular meetings, but his dues are paid and his membership status is current,” said Marc Allen, Mississippi SCV public affairs officer and a member of the same chapter as Bryant. “Gov. Bryant has Confederate ancestors like many people in Mississippi do. This is one way we can honor and pay respect to American veterans.”

Bryant’s office did not respond on Wednesday to repeated calls, text messages and emails seeking comment.

“The continuous acknowledgment by the governor as he celebrates and recognizes the month of April as Confederate Heritage Month, and his membership in such organizations as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, cannot help but be of concern to me and members of the Legislative Black Caucus as well as other residents in the state,” said Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport and chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is the largest pro-Confederate group in the South, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SCV is a self-proclaimed “heritage, not hate” group.

In Mississippi, Allen said, the group’s activities range from maintaining Civil War cemeteries and Confederate monuments to helping people trace their genealogical history.

Males over the age of 12, who provide proof of descent from a Confederate soldier, may join the organization. National, state and chapter dues typically total less than $100 per year.

“In 1896, General Stephen D. Lee charged the SCV to carry on the good name of the Confederate soldier and to carry on the vindication of the cause,” Allen said.

“We help people do a lot of things. We help people do genealogical research. We do civic projects,” he said. “We’re all about Mississippians celebrating Mississippi, and we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Mississippi House

Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport

“Although those who fought in the Confederate army fought with valor and pride, what they fought for was wrong,” Williams-Barnes said. “It is a constant reminder to people in Mississippi of the demeaning and inhumane acts which were inflicted on our ancestors.”

“It’s time to move forward,” she said. “It’s time to move Mississippi forward.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a running list of “hate groups,” or organizations that hold “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”

The law center does not list the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a hate group, although analysts there said hate groups work hand-in-hand with the SCV.

As South Carolina officials sought to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds days after the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, the Sons of Confederate Veterans hosted numerous flag rallies, strongly opposing the flag’s removal.

In Alabama, after Gov. Robert Bentley removed the Confederate battle flag from the Alabama capitol grounds in 2015, Sons of Confederate Veterans members protested that decision, sharing the same podium with leaders of groups like the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a hate group.

Click here to view a collection of Confederate Heritage Month proclamations dating back to 1993.

Heidi Beirich is intelligence project director at the Southern Poverty Law Center and has studied and written about the Sons of Confederate Veterans extensively. Beirich called Bryant’s SCV membership “shocking” and “troubling.” She said that Bryant is the most prominent public figure in the nation who is a known member of the organization.

Hundreds of Sons of Confederate Veterans members left the organization in the late 1990s “because SCV leadership would not stand up against hate groups members who had joined the organization,” Beirich said.

“There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of SCV members who are known members of hate groups,” Beirich said. “Bryant shouldn’t be playing footsie with them.”

“From my perspective, it’s inappropriate for a sitting governor to affiliate himself with them,” she said. “It’s disturbing that (Bryant) is a member of a group that has lost hundreds of members in recent years because they wouldn’t stand up against racism.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans has adopted an anti-hate policy, which is published on its national website. After the Charleston shooting, while plans were being made to host a flag rally in South Carolina, the top national SVC official released a statement condemning the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations “expressing racist ideals or violent overthrow of the United States government.”

The Charleston massacre reignited a national debate about Confederate imagery and symbolism like statues, flags and even names of buildings and parks. That conversation crept into Mississippi.

More than 60 notable Mississippians, from John Grisham to Morgan Freeman to Hugh Freeze, signed a letter in 2015 pleading for state leaders to fly a new state flag. More than a dozen Mississippi cities and towns stopped flying the state flag, along with all eight public universities.

Last year, when Bryant signed his fifth Confederate Heritage Month proclamation, a few dozen people protested outside the state Capitol. Online petitions have circulated in recent months, aiming to protect Confederate monuments in several Mississippi towns.

In the past two legislative sessions, 41 bills regarding the state flag were filed. All died in committee.

Fred Anklam Jr., Mississippi Today

The Mississippi state flag flies at the state Capitol.

Preserving the current state flag — which is the last state flag in the country containing the Confederate battle emblem — remains a strong focus for Mississippi SCV chapters.

For years, Bryant has ardently supported the current state flag. In doing so, he has cited the 2001 state referendum in which Mississippians voted overwhelmingly — 64 percent to 36 percent — to continue flying the current flag.

Bryant is not the only prominent Mississippi politician to cite the 2001 vote. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has said the issue should go back to a ballot like in 2001. House Speaker Philip Gunn has been the only top Republican leader to speak against the state flag, but since his 2015 comments, no flag bills have moved out of committee to the House floor for debate.

State attorneys representing Bryant defended the governor the past year against a federal lawsuit, filed by a black attorney from Mississippi who claimed the flag brought him physical and emotional harm.

Last year, Bryant spoke out against public schools and universities that have chosen to lower the state flag because of the rebel battle symbol it contains. In an interview with WAPT, Bryant said that university leaders were ignoring state law and not setting a good example for their students.

“Now, there may be portions of the code that I don’t like, but I abide by it,” Bryant said. “There is not a punishment within that statute, but it clearly says you should treat the state flag with the same respect and etiquette (as the American flag), and they’re simply not doing that. For the presidents of universities to ignore it, the state code, is troubling.”

Bryant has supported displays of the Mississippi Economic Council’s bicentennial banner, but notes that it is a banner and not a state flag.

The governor’s name is published on numerous Sons of Confederate Veterans documents and web pages. On two different Mississippi chapter Facebook groups, Bryant is referred to as a “proud member” of the SCV. He has been the guest speaker on numerous occasions at different group chapter meetings across the state, according to SCV meeting minutes.

Other prominent former politicians, including former U.S. Senator Trent Lott and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, have held SCV membership. They did not respond to requests for comment.

Millsaps College history professor Stephanie Rolph, a Southern historian whose research has centered around white resistance of civil rights, said that the Sons of Confederate Veterans “equates the Southern rebellion with this hyper form of patriotism, as if these white men were more patriotic than their northern neighbors and that their entire purpose of fighting this war was thoroughly identified with preservation of liberty.”

“The SCV’s connection with what they call Confederate heritage brings with it an enormous amount of baggage that reflects white supremacy in the state,” Rolph said. “For Gov. Bryant and other leaders who claim that membership and are subsequently quite proud of it, I think they are making a not-so-subtle statement about which realms of Mississippi history they choose to embrace. Membership in the SCV chooses a version of Mississippi history that is not inclusive or comprehensive.”

Allen said the Sons of Confederate Veterans does not receive special treatment from the state because Bryant is a member.

Gerald Herbert, AP

A statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis is seen at Beauvoir House, Jefferson Davis’ historic home, in Biloxi.

The only state funds the SCV receives go directly to the maintenance and upkeep of Beauvoir, the Biloxi home of the only president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. The home is owned and operated by the SCV.

The state of Mississippi allocates $100,000 a year to Beauvoir, which is appropriated by the Legislature in its annual budget through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, according to Chris Goodwin, the public information director at MDAH. In the appropriation, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are not listed as the benefactor; instead, it is designated to the “capital development and maintenance of the Beauvoir Shrine.”

Bryant is not the first governor to sign the Confederate Heritage Month proclamation. Each governor since Kirk Fordice – also a Sons of Confederate Veterans member, according to Allen – in 1993 has signed the same proclamation.

Mississippi is the only state to recognize Confederate Heritage Month, and it is one of seven states to recognize Confederate Memorial Day, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Last April, former governor Ronnie Musgrove told Mississippi Today he would not sign the proclamation in its current form today.

“We are a historical organization and this is what we do,” Allen said. “People want to take pot shots, and that’s fine. We have the right of free association as defined by the writings of the Constitution of the United States, and we choose to freely associate. And we welcome everybody.”

  • anonamous

    So, a person who’s great grandfather was a confederate soldier should….. do what? Refuse to acknowledge his family tree? Deface his great grandfather’s grave? Issue a proclamation that his ancestor was a “demeaning and inhumane” whose very existence shall be forever struck from memory? But, for sure, he should NEVER honor the memory of his grandfather in any way, shape, form or fashion ….because, to do so, is to perpetuate hatred and racism. Is that pretty much the gist of it?

  • Thile

    Whoa, Phil’s a longtime, card-carrying member of the member of the Nouveau Klan. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/732e07e80c9d784757a5ab4f83c1070e9499ed7af07760692be00312cfe9fd29.png

    • Otis

      This article sparked my curiosity about the SCV, so I starting looking around the internet about other members and stumbled upon this page.

      https://deadconfederates.co

      Here’s more on Matthew Heimbach
      https://www.splcenter.org/f

      • For the South

        Otis do you belong to the NAACP? Does the NAACP have any criminal member or former members? You do know the SCV has black members as well as other minorities?

        • Thile

          Blots the “We have black friends!” and “NAACP” squares on my bingo card. Tell me, For the South, when does your League Of Mediocre Gentlemen in Dad Jeans group honor the heritage of those 5,000 or so lynchings that occurred in the wake of the South’s defeat? Or memorialize the millions of enslaved who suffered and died at the hands of the confederacy?

          • For the South

            Well my friend you would have to ask the US government about that. “Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 US 537 (1896) was a landmark constitutional law case of the US Supreme Court. It upheld state racial segregation laws for public facilities under the doctrine of “separate but equal”.[1] The decision was handed down by a vote of 7 to 1 with the majority opinion written by Justice Henry Billings Brown and the dissent written by Justice John Marshall Harlan.”
            Guess where Justice Harlan was from here’s a hint he wasn’t a from up north.

            And who is League Of Mediocre Gentlemen in Dad Jeans?

            “Or memorialize the millions of enslaved who suffered and died at the hands of the confederacy? Well you are wrong about that the so called millions would have be killed by Union troops.
            We honor Black Confederates as much as we do whiteConfederates.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_Memorial_(Arlington_National_Cemetery)

            And speaking of memorials why hasn’t the NAACP, SPLC and others spend some of the millions they blackmail from the public and erect those said memorials? Better yet why don’t you and Otis start a drive in Mississippi to do just that.

          • Thile

            The League of Mediocre Gentlemen in Dad Jeans is the SCV, of course! I’m not a member, but I have seen countless photos from your group’s events. The heritage stuff must keep you guys so occupied that you can’t spare a moment to look in a mirror.

            And if this group embraces heritage like you say, how come y’all haven’t honored those families enslaved, ripped apart, terrorized, hanged during the Civil War and during its aftermath? Good deflection with the “black confederates,” “SPLC,” and “NAACP” stuff again. That heritage must include the same tired talking points as well.

          • For the South

            Talk about deflection you are a master at it. Are you and Otis going to honor those folks you say we dishonor? I am sure my question will go unanswered.

    • Otis

      You can always tell when “heritage groups” share a news story on social media by the sudden influx of comments from people with confederate profile pics.

      • Thile

        Like flies on cow pies. And a Pavlovian hivemind to boot with these tired, telegraphed responses.

  • Otis

    This article sparked my curiosity about the SCV, so I starting looking around the internet about other members and stumbled upon this page.

    https://deadconfederates.com/2013/08/31/matt-heimbach-and-the-scv/

  • Matthew A Locke

    Who cares. The SCV is a legitimate heritage organisation which is open to all descendents of Confederate veterans without regard to religion, age, occupation and race much like the sons of the American revolution.

  • usafveteran

    Im proud there are public officials today that take pride in their Southern heritage despite the blather and ignorance of the media and the haters who would deny others the right to embrace their heritage while demanding that theirs be embraced by all.

  • Aletha Brown

    Kuddos to Governor Bryant!!
    I am sick of seeing all this crap about our beautiful state flag.
    That flag has not caused anything. It’s the hate in people’s hearts. The hate is handed down from one generation to another.
    You want to complain it causes this or that when you see it. I say bull malarkey!! I can put it right back at you all this NAACP, MLK, black caucus crap is racist and offends me. Where is my NAAWP or my white caucus? Why can white people not have a group for themselves? It’s nonsense.
    If y’all want the flag down put it back on the ballot I don’t mind voting again. The people of Mississippi need to decide that not the legislature but all the people of Mississippi!! I betcha we will win again!!

    • Thile

      Couldn’t shoehorn “BUT WHY AINT THERE NO BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELUVIZEN” in that screed, Aletha? I’m disappointed.

      • Aletha Brown

        Only because I didn’t think about BET!! So, it offends me also!!

        • W.c. Smith

          WET
          TV….sounds like porn ??

    • Arthur

      Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offends you! WoW!
      Hopefully it does make it out of committee and the people get to vote on it again. Mississippi is the last state holding out, because we believe in being last for some reason.

      • Aletha Brown

        Honestly, no nothing like that offends me. It’s all part of history and should be regarded as such. I am just tired of the mentality of some people being offended by every little thing. Especially, our state flag. They believe what they have been taught and it’s not always the truth. An that goes for both sides of the argument. Instead of being divided we all need to come together. Let’s put it back on the ballot contact your representative, your senator and the governor and tell them and this time when it’s voted on let the vote be binding. That way we won’t be going through this again in a few years. It should be put before the people to choose not the select few like they are trying to do. If y’all can’t see my point now all I can say is kick rocks!!

  • For the South

    Not everyone is falling for your yellow journalism………..http://yallpolitics.com/index.php/yp/post/46782

  • My op-ed piece earlier in the week directed at Gov. Bryant and the people of Mississippi.

    http://www.clarionledger.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/04/01/arkansas-takes-step-toward-progress-mississippi/99756172/

  • For the South

    Delta Flaggers

    4 hrs ·

    “Not Black Enough” to Join Congressional Black Caucus

    When Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport and chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus made her comments regarding Governor Phil Bryant’s SCV membership, the Delta Flaggers went diggnig.

    “The continuous acknowledgment by the governor as he celebrates and recognizes the month of April as Confederate Heritage Month, and his membership in such organizations as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, cannot help but be of concern to me and members of the Legislative Black Caucus as well as other residents in the state,” said Rep. Williams-Barnes.

    Since Rep. Williams-Barnes statement was an apparent “racist” jab at the Mississippi Governor as well as the SCV which has members of African descent we felt the need to point out facts of the Legislative Black Caucus and how it is percieved as “racist” not only in its name but also by its past actions.

    An article published on February 8, 2017 by “New Observer Online” could be found on Google but the link to the article was dead. Checking their webpage http://newobserveronline.com/ a message stating they “we’re offline due to an attack sustained by the enemies of free speech upon our right to express a view contrary to that which they seek enforced upon the rest of the world.”

    Considering the content of the article, could the Legislative Black Caucus itself have been behind this? Very possible! Apparent dead end, end of story right? No, HELLO Internet Cache!!! Article FOUND!!!

    The article starts off: A Hispanic member of Congress hailing from Dominica has been denied membership of the supposedly “anti-racist” Congressional Black Caucus—because he is not black enough. Espaillat, elected in November 2016 identifies as “Latino of African-Descent”.

    The New Obersver Online commented: He now wants to join the Congressional Black Caucus, an organization whose very existence highlights the reality of the establishment’s rampant anti-white racism—because any congressmen forming a “White Congressional Caucus” would be attacked as “racists” or “white supremacists.”

    In 2006 when the Steve Cohen (Jewish), while running for Congress in a Tennessee district which was 60 percent black, pledged to apply for membership to the Legislative Black Caucus in order to represent his constituents. After Cohen’s election, his membership application to the CBC was refused. Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr., Democrat of Missouri, said at the time that “Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. He’s white and the caucus is black. It’s time to move on. We have racial policies to pursue and we are pursuing them, as Mr. Cohen has learned.” “It’s an unwritten rule. It’s understood”, said Rep. Clay.

    One reply to the article that stood out: “Like I say Klan with a Tan.”

    So, “HONORABLE” Representative Williams-Barnes, your continued pointing of the “racist” finger is of great “CONCERN” to the citizens of Mississippi. The organization you point fingers at has African-American members, while your own organization doesn’t have one single member of ANY other race.

    You are elected to serve ALL of your constituents, regardless of race! In your own words: “It’s time to move forward, It’s time to move Mississippi forward”, let’s put the racist finger away and represent ALL constituents by abolishing the Legislative Black Caucus.

    Read the full article ““Not Black Enough” to Join Congressional Black Caucus” here: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search…

  • Papa Don

    I just love how Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes and others like her label others as “RACISTS” when she is the chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, which, of course, is not racist.. Can you even imagine the uproar if anyone even suggested forming a Legislative WHITE Caucus?

    • Thile

      There is a white caucus called “About Ninety Percent of Current State Government.” Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

  • Chuck Rand

    Anyone who uses the SPLC as a source is a fool. They are known liars and are in this “business” to make money and not help anyone.

  • Chuck Rand

    Governor Bryant should be thanked for issuing the proclamation. He shows he will not be cowed by the leftist liars and haters that do not want the South’s history honored and the memory of those that died in her defense cherished.