By Ivana Hrynkiw
The governor of Tennessee has apologized for participating in "Old South" parties while he was in a fraternity at Auburn University, reports say.
Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement that he regrets joining in the parties while he was a member of the school's Kappa Alpha chapter, according to The Tennessean. Lee attended Auburn from 1977 until 1981, when the Kappa Alpha organization "was known for its embrace of Confederate imagery, including displaying Confederate battle flags and members wearing Confederate army uniforms to its annual Old South formal," the newspaper reported.
Lee said in a statement obtained by The Tennessean, "I never intentionally acted in an insensitive way, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that participating in that was insensitive and I've come to regret it."
Lee never lived in the fraternity's house.
In the 1980 Lee yearbook photo, Lee is wearing a Confederate soldier uniform and is standing with a woman in an antebellum dress. Lee's office said it did not immediately know the identity of the woman.
Another unidentified woman and man are also in the photo wearing the same kind of outfits.
Two other photos with different people in Confederate clothing are on the page, which has the caption, "The South shall rise again, right Bill! When the band plays 'Dixie', a tear comes to our eyes. I'd do anything Lee, but she comes first."
The Kappa Alpha Order's website describes Robert E. Lee, the Confederate army commander, as the groups "spiritual founder." The website says Lee was "a descendant of patriots who aided in the founding of the United States" and said after the Civil War Lee "emerged as one of the most important and nationally appreciated figures in healing the divisions of that conflict."
The site states: "Lee was not a member of Kappa Alpha Order, but his religious convictions, exemplary ideals, values, strong leadership, courtesy, respect for others and gentlemanly conduct greatly influenced the students at Washington College. His requirement for all students was, 'We have but one rule--that every student must be a gentleman.' It is in this spirit that Lee is noted as the Order's Spiritual Founder."
UA takes steps to avoid culturally insensitive parties, but some continue
The University of Alabama, and in particular its fraternities and sororities, have a long history of confronting racist and culturally insensitive behavior on campus -- often in a public way.
Gov. Kay Ivey attended Auburn a decade earlier than Lee. Her sorority's 1967 yearbook photo shows five members with black masks portraying "minstrels" in a rush skit, but Ivey said she is not in the photograph. Its caption reads, "Alpha Gam Minstrels welcome rushees aboard their showboat."
The photo is on the same page as a description of the sorority and the accomplishments of its members. The page notes that Ivey was vice president of the student body.
Ivey, a Republican, said she did not recall the skit.
"When I was shown that picture, it had to be a rush skit or something at the sorority at some point in time, but no, I didn't remember it," she said. "I certainly wasn't a part of it."
Ivey said "there is no place" for blackface and that she had never worn it. When asked if she had ever made a remark perceived as racially insensitive, she replied that she hoped not.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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