Jay Reeves, AP, May 13, 2009
A white fraternity that traces its roots to the Civil War and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is again facing complaints over its antebellum-themed events.
This time, University of Alabama alumnae are upset after Kappa Alpha Order members wearing Confederate uniforms and carrying battle flags paraded past a historically black sorority as the women celebrated the group’s 35th anniversary.
The fraternity has been forced to halt its “Old South” festivities on some campuses because of claims of racial insensitivity, and Alabama members have apologized for pausing in front of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s sorority house during this year’s parade.
Alpha Kappa Alpha members said there was no confrontation or taunting, but they were shocked to see fraternity members in rebel uniforms and white women from another sorority in hoop skirts.
Some sorority members said the only solution is to stop the Old South event.
“The only acceptable apology would come with a promise to discontinue this event and recognizing that such an activity is hurtful and divisive,” said Willie Mae Worthey, an Alabama native who graduated in 1995 and now lives in Nevada.
Kappa Alpha was founded in 1865 at Washington & Lee University, and the group calls Lee its “spiritual founder.” With 131 chapters from coast to coast, KA’s “Old South” events were a fixture on many Southern campuses for years.
But those celebrations have met resistance at some schools.
The Auburn University chapter ended its annual parades in 1992 after black students confronted white students with Confederate flags. The chapter also stopped a tradition of covering the front of its house with a huge rebel banner.
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.
The University of Georgia chapter canceled its Old South parade in 2006 following complaints by residents of a mostly black neighborhood, and administrators worked with the group to come up with a compromise.
There, members mounted horses and sorority members donned hoop dresses last month for what is now called the Founder’s Day parade, but the festivities no longer include Confederate symbols and haven’t created the same controversy as in the past, said associate dean Claudia Shamp.
“The elimination of the Confederate uniforms has helped. They have taken away some of the visual stimuli that led to rage and anger on some people’s part,” said Shamp, who oversees Greek life at Georgia.
At Alabama, Kappa Alpha said it was sorry for interrupting the sorority’s anniversary ceremony.
[Editor’s Note: Hoop skirts have gotten multiculturalists’ knickers in a twist before. See this earlier story about Mobile County’s “Azalea Trail Maids” in the Inauguration.]