Kappa Alpha Order and the Old South | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Kappa Alpha Order and the Old South

Tim Abram is the opinion editor of The Daily Mississippian at Ole Miss.

Tim Abram is the opinion editor of The Daily Mississippian at Ole Miss.

— This past weekend I traveled home to spend the weekend with my two siblings for their birthdays. Some other members of our campus community did some traveling as well, namely the gentleman of Kappa Alpha Order.

The fraternity members and their respective dates traveled to St. Joseph Plantation to celebrate their annual “Old South” event. According to Kappa Alpha Law R16-113, Section B, “The Old South Ball and/ or Dixie Ball has evolved since 1920 as a traditional social function of the Active Chapters of the Order with the purpose to celebrate and to perpetuate the social attributes of courtesy, graciousness, and open hospitality, which are values of the Old South and were prominent in Virginia when (the) Order was founded in 1865.”

The aforementioned Kappa Law goes on to state, “These chapter functions have never been prescribed or recommended by the Order.” Coincidentally, the law states, “The chapter functions have been admonished by the Order since 1951 that if they sponsor an Old South Ball and/or Dixie Ball, the event must be conducted with restraint and dignity and without displays of trappings and symbols which might be interpreted and objectionable to the general public.” To be fair, I never saw any Confederate uniforms or flags in any of the pictures I saw on social media. But the antebellum suits and dresses remind me of a period of time in which African Americans, particularly on southern plantations, were treated in grotesquely inhumane ways.

During my formative thought process in writing this column, I questioned myself. I dwelled on the angle I would take.

Would I lambast KA for participating in an annual event that romanticizes the “Old South”? Would I point out the problematic elements of the event? Or would I simply try to seek understanding of why members of KA participate in this event?

I always find great value in understanding the unknown. It is unknown to me why some of my classmates wish to travel to a plantation (where scenes from “12 Years a Slave” were filmed) and dress in formal antebellum attire.

I considered several points of objection as well. Yes, the function takes place far from campus, and it is not imposed on individuals who do not willingly attend. Yes, it is just a costume, and it is dangerous to place a moral thermostat in a person, let alone an entire group based off of one weekend. Before you say it’s just a tradition or heritage thing, I’d like to address that point. According to a PBS article, “the standard image of Southern slavery is that of a large plantation with hundreds of slaves. In fact, such situations were rare. Fully three-fourths of Southern whites did not even own slaves.” The article would later state that the non-slave holding white southerners “resented the wealth and power of the large slaveholders.”

So, statistically speaking, owning a plantation and dressing in the formal antebellum attire is probably not your “heritage or tradition.” And until now, few individuals outside of the Greek community probably even knew that this is an annual event. I’m assuming the old “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” logic was implied about the event. If Ole Miss students do not know that this happens, they cannot be possibly harmed.

My honest inclination is that these gentlemen do not attend the annual event with the primary motivation to become a physical embodiment of the Old South to harm black students. Conversely, I challenge each member of Kappa Alpha Order to consider if their annual event can be “objectionable to the general public.”

One of Kappa Alpha’s members, Joel Buck (Epsilon Nu – Georgia College ’08), wrote a short essay on the Kappa Alpha Order website titled “Party like it’s 1865.” (I wonder how a party for someone like me would go in 1865, but that is neither here nor there.) He asks the following question to his fellow fraternity brothers, “If non-members see a large group of young men (and women) walking the streets in 1860s period costumes with alcoholic beverages in hand, what kind of message does that send?” Despite any intention of the members of Kappa Alpha Order, the image of young men in those antebellum period suits sends a message of insensitivity to me.

Buck goes on to say, “Take a second and think about how people perceive your charter on campus, and off. Is this perception something to be proud of and what your chapter wants to be known for?” I admittedly do not have a nuanced understanding of what goes on at Old South, so I’m sure that there are elements of which members of Kappa Alpha Order can be proud. I especially like the group’s devotion to women. But, the imagery of antebellum suits ON a plantation, is something I simply cannot look past.

Toward the end of Buck’s essay he says, “Image is everything these days and that is something to definitely think about during your formal week or weekend events.”

Image is everything, and I truly hope members of Kappa Alpha Order consider the image they project when posting images of men and women dawning attire from a troublesome part of our country’s history. For me, I do not immediately see gentlemen who are uplifting hospitality and chivalry, and this is perhaps a flaw on my end.

However, if I were to wear a hoodie or basketball shorts and a do-rag, people would not automatically see a person who will be a Honors College graduate and is a member of the Ole Miss Hall of Fame. They would probably see a miscreant. In my day to day dealings, I unfairly have to take into consideration the perception of others when deciding my attire. Recent events have shown that certain attire can be deadly for black men.

Moving forward, I am not asking KA to cease their annual event; it seems like a good weekend to get away and have fun with your fraternity brothers. I just ask, like your fellow brother Joel Buck, is the perception you put forward one you can be proud of? If so, continue having the Old South event. If not, consider repurposing the event for a “New South” which is all-encompassing.

The president of Kappa Alpha Order signed the letter to The DM which stated, “We feel compelled to ask ourselves how can we open our doors, become more inclusive, and take immediate actions in becoming part of the solution.” I ask if a black man wanted to join Kappa Alpha Order, how is he supposed to react to the Old South event held on a plantation? So, if you want to become more inclusive, you gentlemen may want to start by looking at the annual event which romanticizes a period in time that may not be all about chivalry and hospitality, but rather oppression.

This column originally appeared in The Daily Mississippian. Tim Abram is the opinion editor of The Daily Mississippian from Horn Lake. Email him at [email protected]

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Comments

barry 7 years, 5 months ago

The frats at Ole Miss are a major problem when it comes to behavior that embarrasses the university. A simple Google search will uncover a sad and disgraceful history. Here are 4 I found in about five minutes. I’m sure there are lots of other incidents that never made the news. I know I witnessed some during my time there. (1989): Two members of Theta Pi fraternity, one a pledge, were left stranded, bound, and nude at Rust College, a predominantly black school in Holly Springs, 27 miles to the north. Written on their chests with a marker were a racial slur and ''KKK’’. (2001) Members of Alpha Tau Omega post photos from a Halloween party where one member is seen pointing a gun at the head of another who was dressed in blackface, kneeling, and picking cotton. (2007) A member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Dan Cummings, is charged with capital murder in the death of a campus police officer. Cummings was arrested about 30 minutes later at a friend's off-campus apartment. Laboratory tests later showed that he had alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine in his system (2009) An Ole Miss Fraternity member posts a racist rant on YouTube in response to the decision to stop playing From Dixie With Love due to the words chanted by Ole Miss fans at the end of the song. The words “The South Shall Rise Again” The video was later removed.

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theoriginalgingerkid 7 years, 5 months ago

It would be beautiful to for each Greek entity to include each other openly in all events. THAT is defying the expectations of Mississippians segregating themselves.

Put all that other stuff aside. Make an event and call it "NEW SOUTH!" Invite everyone, especially your local artists. Play up our strengths. Show up the other fraternity's hospitality. Don't throw that part out. Don't honor a time period. Honor something else...the blues, writers, good food. Raise money for a local charity that all houses could agree to support. Change the landscape of events. YOU CAN DO IT.

It begins with newer generations acknowledging the past, but not constantly dwelling in it. My experience with college kids is that they're looking to dress up, have a good time dancing, drink, and take a ton pictures. "Tradition" falls a little lower on the totem pole of priorities.

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brjohn9 7 years, 5 months ago

In West Texas, Kappa Alpha was known as the KKKA. The local chapter was suspended after they had a Juneteenth Party with some members in blackface and others in sheets. It's no secret that the fraternity has had a race problem since forever.

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jaltman 7 years, 5 months ago

The Millsaps KAs had Old South every other year back in the late 1970s. They definitely DID do the Confederate officer uniform (and hoop skirts for the women) and Confederate flag thing, though. I discovered my "liberal" identity during my Millsaps years, but it didn't actually occur to me at the time that my African American classmates would have seen it as hostile. Not sure how anyone could not know this 35 years later, though.

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justjess 7 years, 5 months ago

Why don't you young fraternity brothers put up some of the dollars you spend on partying and buy a piece of property. Once paid for, you can borrow against the land value to build a nice place that could be called "Greeks of the New South".

Stop trying to justify participation in anything that smells of the "OLD SOUTH". It is absolutely no way around the singing of dixie, cotton pickers, maids, butlers, Ms. Anns', Mr. Charlies', rapes, bed winches, house Ns, Field Ns, lynch mobs, whips and whelps, blood and deaths. So you young people, stop fooling yourselves. Ain't nothing in the "OLD SOUTH" changed!

Langston Hughes said it best, "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." To continue on the path of supporting businesses representing the OLD SOUTH will only muddy life for these organizations both now and in the future. My suggestion to the young is to: DANCE less, DRINK less, THINK more and tsoon the pictures that you take will be of things you have built.

Always remember that "A LITTLE LEARNING IS A DANGEROUS THING........."

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justjess 7 years, 5 months ago

Why don't you young fraternity brothers put up some of the dollars you spend on parying and buy a piece of property. Once paid for, you can borrow against the land value to build a nice are that could be called Greeks of the New South.

Stop trying to justify participation in anything that smells of the "OLD SOUTH". It is absolutely no way around the singing of Dixie, cotton pickers, maids, butlers, Ms. Anns', Mr. Charlies', rapes, bed winches, house Ns, Field Ns, lynch mobs, whips and whelps, blood and deaths. So you young people, stop fooling yourselves.

Langston Hughes said it so beautifully, "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." To continue on the path of supporting businesses representing the OLD SOUTH will only muddy life for these organizations both now and in the future. My suggestion to the young is to: DANCE less, DRINK less, THINK more and take pictures of the things you have built.

Always remember that "A LITTLE LEARNING IS A DANGEROUS THING........."

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Turtleread 7 years, 5 months ago

The purpose of history is to learn from it, not recreate the imagined most vile aspects of it as the frat boys seem to do. One of the reasons I never joined a frat house in college is because I found them to be sophomoric and less interested in the intellectual life of the university than I cared to engage in at that time. They are also a major drain on your time and money while at the university.

And if you think I am just a Westerner with no roots in Mississippi and no Southern heritage to speak to this matter, you are wrong. The antebellum mansion, Ammadelle, on the National Register of Historic Places and maintained by the MS Dept. of Archives & History once belonged to my 2nd cousin, 4x removed, Mary Delle Price.

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js1976 7 years, 5 months ago

Someone is going to obviously take offense to anything relating to the "Old South" whenever possible. It sounds as if these students are being very respectful with this event by keeping out Confederate uniforms and flags. People attend balls to dress up and have a good time. Look at the great lengths people go to dress up for Mardis Gras balls.

I will agree that owning a plantation and dressing up in this sort of attire is probably not part of the "heritage and tradition" of these students, but that's what makes it fun. I have no knowledge of any of my relatives being involved in the occult, vampirism, etc. Yet you wouldn't think it strange of me to dress up like a zombie, dracula, or some other mythical creature for Halloween.

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Erudite1 7 years, 5 months ago

You are right. I wouldn't think it's strange for you to dress up as a zombie, dracula, or some other mythical creature. Those entities do not represent the aristocratic antebellum South whose elite members oppressed slaves.

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js1976 7 years, 5 months ago

I used those entities as a rebuttle to the authors statement regarding the "heritage and tradition" of the students wearing the costumes. I could have easily used Al Capone, Bonnie & Clyde, Charles Mansion, etc all of which people use as costume ideas for Halloween. These people may not have oppressed slaves, but they were no angels.

The point is, if this Fraternity chose to have a mafia era ball would the author have the same issues as he does with the costumes of the old south?

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Turtleread 7 years, 5 months ago

It goes too far on both sides. If it's a costume party then both blacks and whites should dress as belles and Confederate officers (with no slaves, of course) and dance and have a good time. The other side is trying to equate Confederate uniforms to Nazi uniforms, and that does not work. Also, it is not Southern heritage so much as Southern history. And I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the people doing it are not into the educational aspects of it.

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js1976 7 years, 5 months ago

The author states that he didn't see any Confederate Uniforms.

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Turtleread 7 years, 5 months ago

So they dressed up in the costumes of the civilians of the 1860's for their costume ball, no military uniforms. So what's the beef? I'm a Protestant. I don't call for tearing down every Catholic Church in American simply because the Spanish Inquisition happened. While one should not forget history, one should not get overblown and overwrought by it, especially if you personally were not living that history.

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js1976 7 years, 5 months ago

"To be fair, I never saw any Confederate uniforms or flags in any of the pictures I saw on social media. But the antebellum suits and dresses remind me of a period of time in which African Americans, particularly on southern plantations, were treated in grotesquely inhumane ways."

This is the excerpt from above regarding Confederate attire. It is this reason that I think the author is clearly blowing this out of proportion. If antebellum suits and dresses are considered "objectionable to the general public", how does the public possibly survive Halloween each year?

If this party was covered in Confederate battle flags, I wouldn't be as supportive of the function. However, It is their right to do so since it is off of school grounds.

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MSUKA 7 years, 5 months ago

As a former MSU Beta Tau KA I find it hypocritical to target the Ole Miss KA's. The Ole Miss chapter banned the confederate uniforms years before the MSU chapter did. Confederate Battle flags decorated the MSU KA house during my days as a KA, as well as the stage and even the wall in the KA House. During this time those symbols were seen around the south's KA houses.

But to defend my fraternity, I never witnessed any displays of hate or racism to another person. the reason the state voted to keep the Mississippi flag is the reason these young men did not find anything wrong in these symbols. Seeing it as tradition and history while not thinking that it could be viewed any other way by another group of people. Every group has some bad apples that typical represent the whole group in a bad light.

Our motto is "Dieu et les Dames" (God and the Ladies)

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