Despite asking Gov. Tate Reeves’ office since late March if he planned to again declare April as Confederate Heritage Month with no response, this publication just found what appears to be this year’s proclamation. The new document, which Reeves apparently signed on April 7, 2021, appears on the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Camp 265 Rankin Rough & Ready’s Facebook page. Reeves is from Rankin County.
The proclamation does not yet appear on the secretary of state’s official proclamations page at press time. The most recent one on the page is dated March 29, 2021.
This writer found last year’s proclamation on a Sons of Confederate Veterans Facebook page rather than through official government channels as well, breaking the news at the Jackson Free Press. In a COVID-19 press briefing, Reeves later blamed a state statute for requiring the proclamation, which is not accurate. State law only designates the last day in April as Confederate Memorial Day.
In 2016, that publication had broken the news that Gov. Phil Bryant had quietly proclaimed Confederate Heritage Month, a tradition Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice started in 1993, with one Democratic and now three Republican governors repeating since then, that had flown under the media radar for years until 2016.
Bryant’s 2016 proclamation appeared then on the website of Beauvoir, the Gulf Coast home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, which is now a museum that has long sold revisionist books about the Confederacy, as well as received state funds, and his staff then refused to return calls before the story broke. The Sons of Confederate Veterans run both Beauvoir, including a Confederate cemetery there, as well as its website.
That 2016 breaking story started a national conversation about the Confederate Heritage Month tradition and led to the popular hashtag #ConfederateHeritageMonth on Twitter often used to explode romantic myths about the Confederacy, including the falsehood that it was not about maintaining and extending slavery as Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession, and those of other soon-to-be Confederate states, made very clear.
“Darn’ tootin’ it is!,” the Rough and Ready’s Facebook page, celebrated at about noon on April 8. “It’s official-April is Confederate Heritage and History Month in our state of Mississippi and we observe it with pride! #ConfederateHeritage #SouthernHeritage #HonoringOurAncestors”
Taking an ‘All Sides Matter’ Approach to the Civil War
In what appears to be the 2021 proclamation, Reeves repeats the same language he used in the 2020 proclamation, which he issued within weeks of COVID-19 hitting Mississippi, amending Bryant’s 2016 order. Bryant said outright that the Confederacy started the Civil War. His 2016 proclamation began: “April is the month when the Confederate states began and ended a four-year struggle.” That is accurate: the South started the conflict by firing on Fort Sumter, S.C., on April 12, 1861, over the right to own and extend slavery to new U.S. states.
Reeves however, takes a more “all sides matter” approach—hearkening back to the “reconciliation” approach of the United Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy. Led by former Confederate officer and first Mississippi State University President Stephen D. Lee of Mississippi after Reconstruction ended, Confederate revisionists pushed for a strategy that ended in “lost cause mythology” through textbook censorship and public marketing, including through the proliferation of Confederate statues and memorials across the South.
This “redemption” ideology—which actually advocated for maintaining white supremacy and turning back new-found rights for Black Americans—taught that the north was just as responsible as the south, if not more so, for what some southerners still call the “War of Northern Aggression.”
“April is the month when, in 1861, the American Civil War began between the Confederate and Union armies, reportedly the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil…,” his proclamation begins.
The current governor also strongly implies that his proclamation includes those who died fighting for the Union as well with the addition of “as we honor all who lost their lives in this war.” He adds that “it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us.”
Reeves: ‘I Couldn’t Have Understood the Pain’
The controversial proclamation in honor of a war Confederates openly admitted was over both slavery and white supremacy comes just months after Reeves signed legislation that changed the Mississippi flag in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota at the knee of a police officer. Reeves did not enthusiastically change his long-time stance against changing the flag, but eventually agreed to sign the legislation.
“Now, I can admit that as a young boy growing up in Florence, I couldn’t have understood the pain that some of our neighbors felt when they looked at our flag—a pain that made many feel unwelcome and unwanted,” Reeves said in his statement about signing the legislation. “Today, I hear their hurt. It sounds different than the outrage we see on cable TV in other places. It sounds like Mississippians, our friends and our neighbors, asking to be understood.”
But in those remarks, Reeves also defended those who hold onto signs and symbolism of the Confederacy. “It is fashionable in some quarters to say our ancestors were all evil. I reject that notion. I also reject the elitist worldview that these United States are anything but the greatest nation in the history of mankind,” Reeves said. “I reject the mobs tearing down statues of our history—north and south, Union and Confederate, founding fathers and veterans. I reject the chaos and lawlessness, and I am proud it has not happened in our state.”
Within months, Reeves also pushed for controversial “patriotic education” legislation, but it did not survive the session after historians spoke out collectively against it.
For his part, The SCV awarded Bryant, a member, the John J. Pettus Heritage Award in 2018 named for the “fire-eater” secessionist governor and slave holder who led Mississippi into secession and the Civil War. Pettus and his family lived in Scooba, Miss., which is in Kemper County, with multiple enslaved people until he fled to Arkansas after the war ended. Slave schedules show he also owned 30 people in Arkansas in 1860 as the war began.
He refused to surrender to the United States before he died there on Jan. 28, 1867.
April 14, 2021: Reeves Admits Signing Proclamation—Like Former Guvs
After the above story broke the news about Reeves again signing Confederate Heritage Month proclamation this year, and after more than a week of the Mississippi Free Press requesting comment from the governor with no response, his office broke their silence to WAPT, an ABC affiliate TV station in Jackson. The April 14 report by Digital Media Manager Angela Williams led with a photo of an engraved placard, reading “To the Confederate Dead of Mississippi,” without explaining where the sign appears. It is, in fact, on the side of the Confederate/Jefferson Davis monument in front of the Charlotte Capers Archives and History Building on what used to be grounds of the Old Capitol in Jackson, where Mississippi voted to secede.
In its piece on the proclamation today, WAPT then stated that “Bailey Martin, a spokesperson for the governor, said by signing the proclamation, Reeves is following in the footsteps of governors in office before him.”
WAPT then quoted Martin directly: “For the last 30 years, five Mississippi governors—Republicans and Democrats alike—have signed a proclamation recognizing the statutory state holiday and identifying April as Confederate Heritage Month,” Martin said. “Gov. Reeves also signed the proclamation because he believes we can all learn from our history.”
Several weeks after this journalist broke the story about Gov. Phil Bryant’s proclamation in February 2016, Mississippi Today confirmed that three previous governors had also quietly signed a version of the proclamation, the language of which has changed over the years. Four of those governors were Republicans; one was a Democrat.
Gov. Kirk Fordice, known for pandering to the Council of Conservative Citizens (which later inspired Dylann Roof’s racist massacre of Black worshipers) started the tradition 28 years ago. The next Republican governor, Haley Barbour (known for his role in the southern strategy to appeal to white voters), continued the tradition; then Phil Bryant signed it (known for his embrace of Brexit and “patriotic history“); and now Reeves has routinely signed his own version of it two years in a row.
The sole Democratic signer, Ronnie Musgrove, is known in part for pushing for early tort-reform legislation in the so-called “jackpot justice” era with urgent headlines on page 1 of The Clarion-Ledger about Black people in the Delta getting rich off lawsuits. (Haley Barbour completed the legislation, which “Mississippi Politics” authors Jere Nash and Andy Taggart wrote was about helping solidify a one-party supermajority in Mississippi for Republicans.)
Musgrove was the only former governor who agreed to speak to Mississippi Today in March 2016 about proclaiming Confederate Heritage Month four times, expressing regret for signing it during his one term in office following Fordice.
“I think it’s important that we gain insight from our history, look at where we’ve made mistakes, and try to learn from them,” Musgrove said in March 2016 after the original Jackson Free Press story about Bryant’s proclamation went viral in February. “No one erases history for who they are. However, we are held responsible for how we respond. The way I look at it, these (Confederate) symbols represent a culture that preserves that institutional racism. That proclamation probably doesn’t represent a fairness that should’ve been included.”
Natchez Democrat to Reeves: ‘We Have Still a Long, Long Way to Go’
Also since the above story about Reeves’ 2021 proclamation broke earlier this week, the Natchez Democrat published an editorial decrying both the proclamation and the secretive method Reeves and other governors have used to deliver the document straight to neo-Confederate groups rather than announcing it publicly: “If the governor feels the need to make such a proclamation in secret, he should not make it at all,” the long-time Natchez newspaper wrote.
The Natchez Democrat also mentioned slavery, the stated and overt reason the Confederacy formed and that Mississippi seceded and joined the southern insurrection, which neither WAPT this week nor Mississippi Today in 2016 mentioned in their follow-up articles about Confederate Heritage Month proclamations. “There is nothing celebratory about keeping the heritage of the institution of slavery alive, which the confederacy did. Maybe a better way is to designate April as a month dedicated to studying the Civil War, which lasted five Aprils,” the Natchez editorial board said in its message to Reeves.
The Natchez Democrat ended this way: “Mississippi made progress this year when it voted to replace a flag bearing a confederate battle emblem with one that represents all of Mississippi’s citizens. The governor’s secretive designation of April as Confederate Heritage Month in Mississippi is stark proof we have still a long, long way to go.”
For more on the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “redemption” schemes, and the censorship campaign to romanticize and sanitize the Confederacy in southern and U.S. textbooks, read this in-depth piece about first Mississippi State University President Stephen D. Lee’s successful efforts to rewrite the Confederate narrative. Also, see this piece about efforts by a graduate of the University of Mississippi and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to preserve Confederate memorials on campus there.