This April 11, 2002 file photo shows members of the Kappa Alpha Order, dressed in Confederate military uniforms, escorting their dates from the James Dormitory at Centenary College during the Old South event in Shreveport, La. amidst protesting Centenary College students. The college fraternity inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has banned members around the country from wearing Confederate uniforms to ‘Old South’ parties and parades after years of complaints that the tradition was racially insensitive.…(AP Photo/The Shreveport Times, Charlie Gesell, File)
by Jay Reeves
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A college fraternity inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has banned members around the country from wearing Confederate uniforms to “Old South” parties and parades after years of complaints that the tradition was racially insensitive.
The Virginia-based Kappa Alpha Order issued new rules to chapters earlier this year saying members aren’t allowed to wear Rebel uniforms to parties or during their parades, which are a staple on campuses across the South.
The decision, announced in an internal memo posted on the group’s website, followed a flap last year at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where a black sorority complained after a KA parade stopped in front of its house on campus. KA members were dressed in the gray uniforms of Confederate officers, and young women wore hoop skirts.
More than 70 alumnae of the sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, sent a petition to Alabama President Robert Witt complaining about the use of Confederate flags and uniforms on campus.
In the memo to chapters, Kappa Alpha’s national executive director, Larry Wiese, said such displays had to end.
“In today’s climate, the Order can ill afford to offend our host institutions and fend off significant negative national press and remain effective at our core mission, which is to aid young men in becoming better community leaders and citizens,” Wiese wrote.
The KA chapter at Alabama has canceled this year’s Old South parade, which was set for this week. Still, a large Confederate national flag covers the front of its house on campus.
Other KA chapters quit donning Confederate uniforms or holding parades with Old South themes in recent years as criticism grew. The University of Georgia chapter canceled its parade in 2006 after complaints by residents of a black neighborhood. Instead, it switched to a Founder’s Day parade, with members riding horses but ditching Confederate gear.
Auburn University’s chapter ended its Old South parade in 1992 after black students confronted white students with Confederate flags.
Kappa Alphas at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., moved their Old South events off campus in 2002 after drawing protests from the Black Student Alliance and others over the Confederate garb.
On Thursday, the University of Alabama said the decision to call off the parade there was made by the fraternity in consultation with school administrators.
Thomas Wilson, KA’s president at Alabama, said the fraternity supports “an inclusive campus environment, and as an organization we chose not to participate in an activity that we knew other members of the community found offensive.”
“The members of the fraternity understand that when traditions hurt others, even unintentionally, it’s time to change them,” said dean of students Tim Hebson.
An alumna of the black sorority that complained about racial insensitivity at last year’s parade said there are ways for the fraternity to acknowledge its Southern heritage beside dressing up like Confederate soldiers.
“The women of Alpha Kappa Alpha and other racially diverse groups on UA’s campus trust that the men of Kappa Alpha will find ways to commemorate their founders in a spirited and significant manner that simultaneously recognizes the progress that we have made in race relations since the founding of Kappa Alpha and the rich diversity and inclusiveness of our progressive and positive campus,” said Joyce Stallworth, now an associate education dean at Alabama.
Kappa Alpha was founded in 1865 at Washington & Lee University — a school partly named for the Confederate general, and the group calls Lee its “spiritual founder.” It has about 130 chapters nationwide.