For the third year in a row, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is declaring the month of April as Confederate Heritage Month, keeping a tradition alive that his predecessors began 29 years ago.
“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,” the proclamation says. It notes that the last Monday of April is also Confederate Memorial Day in Mississippi. It is identical to the proclamation Reeves signed in 2021.
After issuing the same proclamation last year, however, the Republican governor appeared on Fox News on April 29, 2021, and claimed that “there is not systemic racism in America”—contradicting mountains of evidence, including the vestiges of Jim Crow that remain in force in Mississippi law.
‘The Systematic Destruction of Lives’
This year, Reeves is also proclaiming April as Genocide Awareness Month, but he publicly shared that announcement on his social-media channels on March 15. That proclamation describes genocide as “the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group by destroying a group’s political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion and economic existence, and destroying the personal security, liberty, health, dignity and lives of individuals belonging to the group.”
I’ve proclaimed April as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month.
The systematic destruction of lives has spanned areas and cultures from Armenia to Darfur, the Holodomor to the Holocaust.
Genocide has no place in society, and we must do everything we can to prevent it. pic.twitter.com/gPia8yYDeD
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) March 15, 2022
Despite pointing to numerous examples of genocide, the Genocide Awareness Month proclamation does not mention American slavery or the destruction of Native American cultures.
“The systematic destruction of lives has spanned areas and cultures from Armenia to Darfur, the Holodomor to the Holocaust,” Reeves tweeted on March 15, 2022, along with a copy of the Genocide Awareness Month proclamation dated March 13. “Genocide has no place in society, and we must do everything we can to prevent it.
The Confederate Heritage Month proclamation shows that Reeves signed it on April 8, 2022. Like last year, Reeves did not publicly announce the proclamation himself. Twitter user @jallen1985 alerted the Mississippi Free Press to a copy of the proclamation that appeared on the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Camp 265 Rankin Rough & Ready’s Facebook page. Last year, this publication’s editor, Donna Ladd, found the proclamation on the same page and reported it.
Gov. Reeves’ office did not respond to a request for comment about the Confederate Heritage Month proclamation from the Mississippi Free Press last year, but did give a statement to local news affiliate WAPT, saying the governor was following in his predecessors’ footsteps.
“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,” the statement read. “Gov. Reeves also signed the proclamation because he believes we can all learn from our history.”
Proclamation Follows ‘Critical Race Theory’ Law
This year’s proclamation follows on the heels of Reeves signing a so-called “critical race theory ban” into law, which is a misnomer because despite its legislative title, the law neither mentions nor describes critical race theory. As he signed the bill, the governor claimed that “critical race theory is running amok,” despite the fact that the lawmakers who drafted it admitted that they did not know of any public K-12 schools where the academic theory is taught.
The governor painted critical race theory, which addresses systemic racial inequalities in the legal system and throughout society, as a tool of indoctrination that is used to “humiliate” white people. Reeves correctly said that the “bill in no way, in no shape and in no form prohibits the teaching of history,” but opponents have raised concerns that it could nevertheless chill classroom speech because of the law’s vagueness.
“Students are being force-fed an unhealthy dose of progressive fundamentalism that runs counter to the principles of America’s founding. Children are dragged to the front of the classroom and are coerced to declare themselves as oppressors, that they should feel guilty because of their race, or that they are inherently a victim because of their race,” Reeves said while signing the bill into law on March 14, 2022.
In his Confederate Heritage Month proclamation, however, the governor says that “as we honor all who lost their lives in the war, 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.”
‘A Culture That Preserves Institutional Racism’
Ladd drove national headlines in 2016 when she broke the story that then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, had declared April as Confederate Heritage Month. Later, Mississippi Today confirmed that Bryant was the fourth governor to issue such proclamations. Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice began the practice in 1993 at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Every governor since has followed in his footsteps, including Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, Bryant and Reeves.
Musgrove told Mississippi Today in 2016 that he would not sign the proclamations today if given the chance, saying that Confederate “symbols represent a culture that preserves institutional racism.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, which promotes Lost Cause narratives that downplay slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War, runs Beauvoir, the Gulf Coast home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Beauvoir is now a museum that annually receives $100,000 from the State of Mississippi “for the purpose of capital development and maintenance.”
While SCV and other Confederate heritage organizations promote a whitewashed version of the South’s role in the Civil War that has often made its way into textbooks in the state and throughout the country, the historical record makes clear that slavery was the primary cause of the Union’s split and the subsequent war.
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world,” Mississippi’s 1861 Declaration of Secession says. “Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.”
While Gov. Bryant’s 2016 Confederate Heritage Month proclamation said that “April is the month when the Confederate states began and ended a four year struggle,” his predecessors’ declarations have not specified that the South started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter, S.C., on April 12, 1861.
‘To Turn A Page In Mississippi’
In the decades after the Civil War ended, Confederate veterans, such as Mississippi State University inaugural President Stephen D. Lee, and groups like SCV began the work of remaking history in a way that shone a more favorable light on the South—muddying the waters over the cause of the war and falsely describing it as a “war of northern aggression.”
After the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction, Mississippi’s white leaders worked to enshrine white supremacy in state law, adopting a Jim Crow constitution in 1890 (its racist felony voter disenfranchisement provision remains in state law and continues to disproportionately disenfranchise Black voters).
The state also adopted a flag in 1894 that included a Confederate emblem. The banner flew over the state until 2020 when, amid a national race reckoning, state lawmakers voted to retire and replace it. Despite his campaign pledge not to support efforts to retire the flag, Gov. Reeves signed the bill retiring the old flag into law, calling it “a law to turn a page in Mississippi today.”
“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. I reject the mobs tearing down statues of our history—north and south, Union and Confederate, founding fathers and veterans,” the governor said in 2020, criticizing Black Lives Matter protesters even as he signed the legislation retiring the old state flag. “I reject the chaos and lawlessness, and I am proud it has not happened in our state.”
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.