BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — 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.
"I don't believe these young folks were in any way trying to be racist," said Joyce Stallworth, an Alpha Kappa Alpha alumna who saw the April 29 parade in Tuscaloosa and is an associate education dean at Alabama. "But they were being insensitive. I don't think they understood the broader implications of what they were doing."
No formal action against fraternity
While 71 alumnae sent a petition to Alabama President Robert Witt complaining about the use of Confederate flags and uniforms on campus, administrators haven't taken any formal action against the fraternity.
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.
Confederate symbols no longer part of event
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.
"The Old South celebration, including the parade, has been a Kappa Alpha tradition at Alabama for many years but we are sensitive to the concerns of students, faculty and the community," Larry Wiese, executive director of the Kappa Alpha Order, said in the statement.
Tradition is important at Alabama, which Union troops burned in 1865 near the end of the war. About a century later, then-Gov. George C. Wallace staged his "stand in the schoolhouse door" to protest forced racial integration of the campus.
The school now has more than 25,000 students, and university statistics show that in 2007, 11 percent were black.
University administrators said they appreciated the fraternity reaching out to the sorority.
"We will continue to address issues related to the concerns of both these organizations over the next several months, emphasizing, as always, the importance of a respectful and inclusive environment for all members of our campus community," said Mark Nelson, the vice president for student affairs.
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