MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he has regrets after a photo resurfaced from his college yearbook showing him dressed in a Confederate army uniform.
The photo, from Lee's time at Auburn University in Alabama, appeared in a 1980 yearbook on the Kappa Alpha Order page and shows Lee dressed in a Confederate uniform with another man in the same clothes and two women in clothing from the Civil War era.
WREG sent the photo to Lee's press secretary, who did not deny if Lee was the person in the photo, and was sent this statement from the governor as a response:
“Although I have never acted to intentionally hurt anyone, I have the benefit of 40 years of hindsight to see that participating was insensitive, and I’ve come to regret it."
Lee went to Auburn in 1977-81 and was a member of Kappa Alpha, which hosted "Old South" parties that celebrated Southern heritage and the Confederacy.
The press secretary for the governor said Lee has never dressed in blackface, as Virginia's governor admitted to recently.
Kappa Alpha was founded in 1865 and, as its website states, it was instilled with the values of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who was never a member of the fraternity but is noted as KA's spiritual founder.
On the same page of the 1980 Glomerata yearbook as Lee's photo, a quote says, "The South shall rise again, right Bill!" It also has a text box that describes the Confederate connection and heritage of KA.
"These ideals (of Robert E. Lee) constituted the frame and fabric of Southern Culture and include chivalry, valor, loyalty and reverence for womankind," the yearbook page reads. "It is for this reason that KA at Auburn Univ. each spring has a week-long celebration of the grandeur and glory of the OLD SOUTH."
The Old South parties where Lee is pictured were intended to pay homage to that founding. The fraternity has since distanced itself from a Confederate identity.
A spokesperson for Kappa Alpha's national headquarters said Confederate flags have been prohibited on KA property since 2001; Confederate uniforms, parades and trappings prohibited since 2010; and a social event nomenclature associated with Civil War period prohibited since 2016.
They also provided the statement below.
“For everyone, the collective revelation of these activities have served to educate us all on the past, punctuate the changes that have been made by our Order and in society, and direct us to continue to closely follow our values today. Kappa Alpha Order is a moral compass for the modern gentleman and promotes respect for others. We are proud of our members who have exemplified those specific values.
It is well known that the fraternity has consistently reviewed and revised policies regarding all social events conducted by individual chapters to ensure actions were in line with our core values. These include the prohibition of any trappings and nomenclature associated with the Civil War period. It is important to note that the referenced events were never required, nor condoned, and less than one third of chapters used the referenced nomenclature by 2015. Any event must be conducted with dignity, respect and be in compliance with university policies. The national fraternity has a known record of enforcing compliance for violations of any of our laws and policies, as well as decorum of chapters and members.”