Jim Hood elaborates on racist photos his fraternity published in yearbook

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The state’s lone statewide Democrat talked more about racist photographs that surfaced last week of his college fraternity when Hood was a member in the early 1980s.

In the photo, members of Pi Kappa Alpha are wearing face paint and dressed like indigenous tribesmen.

The controversy follows the the emergence of similar photos from the fraternity to which Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves belonged at Millsaps and the revelation of Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page, which features a man in blackface and another in full Klan regalia.

Blackface, Confederate reverence a decades old tradition at Mississippi universities and colleges

A spokeswoman for Reeves, the GOP frontrunner for governor, issued a short statement acknowledging that Reeves was a member of Kappa Alpha Order, which holds an “Old South” costume formal honoring Confederate culture.

Reeves and his office has not elaborated further on the issue. As of press time Monday, the Senate, where Reeves presides, was still in session; we will update this story after adjournment if Reeves speaks to the press.

Hood, the Democratic Party’s leading candidate for governor in 2019, met with reporters Monday afternoon at the Stennis Press Club luncheon, sponsored by the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government and Capitol Correspondents Association.

Below are his verbatim responses to reporters’ questions as well as the audio from his conversation with the press:

Mississippi Today: I wanted to give you a chance to publicly comment on the yearbook issues and that stuff that’s come out in the past couple weeks.

Hood: “You know, as far as what was out there on Tate Reeves, y’all have to ask him a question about that. I saw this picture that they put in the paper — well it was in the Clarion-Ledger, not sure who else carried it — I thought it was a KISS concert, where the Pikes had their faces (painted), until I saw their bodies. I don’t know what the party was, I don’t know if I was up there still in school. In the fall of ’83, I went to Mississippi State working in the oil and gas business, so I wouldn’t have been active in the fraternity at that point. I don’t know when that picture was made. I don’t really understand the context of it. I really can’t comment any further. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Mississippi Today: Have you ever worn blackface?

Hood: “No. I can tell you that for sure. It would smother me to death. When I go hunting, I can’t even wear a mask. You know, when you go to Arkansas, those die-hard duck hunters will shoot you if you don’t have a mask on. It would smother me to death, so I can absolutely tell you no.”

Millsaps College/University of Mississippi

Yearbooks photos from fraternity pages of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (top) and Attorney General Jim Hood (bottom).

Mississippi Today: What about a Klan hood and robe?

Hood: “I don’t remember going to anything where I’ve dressed as anything like that. No. We did all kinds of stupid stuff in college. I admit that. 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. My whole history, my whole life, my parents’ upbringing, you know, was to treat others the way I’d want to be treated, no matter their race or religion. And that’s just part of what I believe. And, you know, I think we should judge people if they’re speaking at events where you’re actually already in office and you’re speaking at events filled up with Rebel flags. That sends a bad message to about 38 or 40 percent, or really 50 percent, of our people here in our state. So I think we should be judged on what we’ve done afterwards, and I don’t know what else to tell you on that issue.”

Editor’s note: Hood is referring to a widely circulated photo of Reeves speaking at a 2013 Sons of Confederate Veterans event in Vicksburg. In the photo, several Confederate battle flags and other official symbols of the Confederacy are lining the stage in front of and behind Reeves.

Associated Press: Have you ever spoken to Sons of Confederate Veterans?

Hood: No.

AP: Would you, if they invited you?

Hood: “You know, I don’t even know if it exists anymore. I saw some pictures from ’13 or something. When I was in school, the Klan was a joke. When I was in high school, I don’t remember anything about — we all thought they were dead and gone. I didn’t learn anything about it in my history books. What I learned about it was in experience when I tried that Mississippi Burning case. I saw the fears in eyes of not just African Americans but Choctaw Indians, of how they were mistreated during that era. I began to learn. I started to read about our history and what all happened in our state. That’s why we’ve been held back for all these years, I think, because we’ve hid our history — because we were ashamed of it. I think one of our greatest assets is our diversity, and that (Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson) sitting right over there, I think in 20 years, you will see the tourism coming here.

That hotel downtown, other restaurants and places to go, you will see people coming. We were ground zero in the Civil Rights Movement, and that history is something we have to sell. From the misery of all that, we have the greatest entertainers and writers and other artists of any state in the nation. That’s one of our greatest assets, and if we put that forth in the future — there’s a huge mystique about Mississippi. When I go talk to my (attorney general) friends, when I tried that Mississippi Burning case, they (ask), ‘Have y’all really changed?’ They politely say it.
Many of them were in college when that happened. You know, the inference in that, they didn’t have a great opinion of our state. I think we have an opportunity to get back on the right trajectory. We were on it when Gov. Winter was governor here in Mississippi. We were putting money in education and moving forward. We stumbled for a time period, but I think people are ready to come back together and make our state — put us back on the right track and move forward.”

Editor’s note: In 2005, Hood, as the state’s attorney general, prosecuted Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner. The case is broadly referred to as the “Mississippi Burning” case, which was the title of a 1988 film about the then-unsolved murders.