Tate Reeves speaks on blackface, racism and his Confederate-group associations

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The Republican lieutenant governor talked more about photographs that surfaced last week of his college fraternity when Reeves was a member in the early 1990s.

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

The controversy follows the emergence of similar photos from the fraternity to which Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood belonged at the University of Mississippi 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

Hood on Monday told reporters he did not know anything about the photograph and said he has not dressed in blackface or in Klan regalia.

Reeves, the Republican Party’s leading candidate for governor, addressed reporters on Tuesday. Below are his verbatim responses to reporters’ questions as well as audio from his conversation to the press.

Associated Press: Governor, have you ever worn blackface?

Reeves: I have not.

Associated Press: Have you ever won a KKK costume or something similar?

Reeves: I have not.

Millsaps College

The 1993 Millsaps College yearbook shows members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity with darkened faces. The member in the middle appears to be wearing a painted Confederate battle flag on his face. No caption or further explanation was published.

Associated Press: When you were a KA, did you dress in Confederate dress for Old South events?

Reeves: So 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. The reason we’re here today is because a liberal, Democrat outfit from Washington, D.C., that does opposition research did opposition research on me and gave that story to the Huffington Post. Now I think when they did that, it’s highly unlikely that they thought the most likely Democrat nominee for governor was going to get caught up in the controversy, as well. But that is what happened. I condemn racism because that’s the way I was raised, and I will tell you that’s the way I have governed as lieutenant governor.

Mississippi Today: “Have you worn any hood or robe that…”

Reeves, interrupting: How many questions are y’all going to ask? Y’all have asked, and I have answered it.

Clarion Ledger: Do you feel like that’s the end of this now?

Reeves: I think only y’all are the ones that can decide that now. Y’all are the ones writing a story here on the fifth day. What I can tell you for sure is that when the attorney general said yesterday that we ought to be judged on our policies that we believe in, I agree with him.

What I didn’t agree with, and really what I think ought to be the story that came out of his speech yesterday, when he said that Mississippi has been stumbling since William Winter was governor. So he evidently believes that electing Kirk Fordice as governor was stumbling. He evidently believes that electing Haley Barbour as governor of Mississippi was stumbling. He evidently believes that when we elected Phil Bryant as governor that Mississippi was stumbling. Now I would expect that from some leftist groups in Washington, D.C., or some liberal from Hollywood, but we deserve better from our attorney general.

We need elected officials in Mississippi that are going to be focusing on progress we’re making in this state. The fact that unemployment is at an all-time low (and) the fact that the number of people who are employed is at an all time high. The attorney general is wrong. Mississippi is not stumbling; Mississippi is growing. Mississippi’s economy is growing. Mississippi is growing well. We’ve got more work to do, but the attorney general is dead wrong when he says that. Thank you.

Mississippi Today: Do you regret appearing before the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

Reeves: I did speak to a group of 600 to 700 people that came to our state. 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. 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. And one of the jobs and responsibilities of the lieutenant governor is to welcome people to our state. Thank y’all.

Editor’s note: The question refers 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.