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In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves still seems to have time for celebrating a racist history by proclaiming April “Confederate Heritage Month”.

According to the Jackson Free Press, Reeves signed the April 3 state proclamation only two days after he issued a statewide shelter-at-home order because of the escalating COVID-19 infections in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans posted about the proclamation on Facebook. “God bless the Confederate Soldier. He shall never be forgotten. Deo Vindice!” the Mississippi SCV’s April 3 post read. “Deo Vindice,” Latin for “Under God as our Vindicator,” was on the official seal of the Confederacy and was the Confederacy’s motto.

 

Former Gov. Phil Bryant had quietly signed a similar proclamation in February 2016. His proclamation wasn’t included on his official page of proclamations or his official governor’s website, but it did show up on the site of Beauvoir, the Gulf Coast home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, now a museum. SCV operates both Beauvoir, including a Confederate cemetery located there, along with its website. Reeves also doesn’t seem to be broadcasting his proclamation to major news outlets or his official sites. However, groups who honor the Confederacy are clearly celebrating.

Both Reeves’ and Bryant’s proclamations say that the last Monday in April is a state holiday in Mississippi called “Confederate Memorial Day.” A few southern states still honor the day the last major Confederate field army surrendered to the Union at Bennett Place in Durham, N.C., on Wednesday, April 26, 1865, which officially ended the Civil War.

Bryant changed his tune about “Confederate Heritage Month”, however, in 2019 when he changed the name to “Unity Month”. He was reacting to a request by Unite Mississippi, a Flowood, Mississippi-based nonprofit that focuses on social and racial reconciliation among Christians in Mississippi.

Both former governor Bryant and current governor Reeves have ties to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Bryant was an open member of the group, which claims the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery. In 2018, Bryant was award the John J. Pettus Heritage Award by SCV, which was named after the “fire-eater” governor and slave owner who led Mississippi into secession.

Gov. Reeves spoke at SCV’s national reunion in July 2013 with a massive Confederate flag behind him and a decorative arrangement of cotton on either side. He thanked the group “for keeping history alive for our youth,” one SCV blogger later recalled. Other speakers at the event defended the Confederate’s “cause,” and portrayed notoriously racist slaveholders as heroes. One speaker even compared “the Yankees” to “the Nazis.”

During his campaign for governor, Reeves received backlash after Millsaps College yearbook photos surfaced from his time spent there. They portrayed members of his fraternity sporting blackface, along with afro wigs. Some of them even had a Confederate X painted across their faces. At the time, Reeves denied that he participated in such activities.

However, Reeves campaign eventually defended his participation in the fraternity at the time and confirmed that he frequented Confederate-themed parties. “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,” Laura Hipp, his communications director explained in 2019.

Reeve’s has staunchly defended the Confederate flag over the years as well, despite fights in states like South Carolina to have Confederate imagery removed from public places. The pressure was especially strong in 2015 after Dylann Roof massacred Black worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina. Despite the tragedy, then-Lt. Gov. Reeves was stedfast about keeping the Confederate flag and imagery.

Flags and emblems are chosen by a group of people as a symbol of all that unites and ties the group together,” he wrote in a statement at the time. “The good and bad in our shared history, and all that we have learned from it, is something that ties us together. The same discussion South Carolinians are having now is one that Mississippians had 14 years ago when nearly two-thirds of our state voted to keep our current flag. If the citizens of our state want to revisit that decision, and I am sure at some point we may, it will best be decided by the people of Mississippi, not by outsiders or media elites or politicians in a back room.”

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