Friday, August 19, 2016
The University of Mississippi shed one more vestige of its Confederate past today, announcing that it is doing away with the song “Dixie” starting with this season’s football festivities. But the public institution, known as Ole Miss, tiptoed the news out the door gingerly.
The Athletics department, from which the decision to do away with the song originated, did not release a statement at first to reporters, instead insisting that they pull its statement from a nonprofit website started, run and funded, in part, by Ole Miss alumni.
Only when confronted with questions about whether the redirection was a university endorsement of that website did the department send a statement directly to the Jackson Free Press.
"The newly expanded and renovated Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will further highlight our best traditions and create new ones that give the Ole Miss Rebels the best home field advantage in college football,” the statement released to the Jackson Free Press from Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork said. “Because the Pride of the South is such a large part of our overall experience and tradition, the Athletics Department asked them to create a new and modern pregame show that does not include ‘Dixie’ and is more inclusive for all fans.”
Sources inside the university, but separate from the athletics department, told the JFP that rumors about the decision had been circulating for weeks but that the final word came down as recently as Thursday. The Daily Mississippian, the university’s college newspaper, reported that Bjork explained today that the decision began with the athletic department, but resulted from discussions between campus, band and athletics leadership.
“I can’t predict (how people will react),” Bjork told The Daily Mississippian.
The college paper also reported that members of the band were notified on Tuesday but told not to speak to the media.
In an interview with the Oxford Eagle, Bjork said talks about stopping the song began as far back as 2015.
Bjork told Eagle Editor Alex McDaniel that the university didn’t drop “Dixie” completely in 2015 due to timing. McDaniel is a former editor-in-chief of The Daily Mississippian.
The mothballing of “Dixie” is the latest in a series of changes to game-day traditions for the Rebels stretching all the way back to the era of Chancellor Robert Khayat, who first banned the use of the Confederate flag in 1994. Chancellor Dan Jones, Khayat’s successor, took one more step by asking that the band stop playing “From Dixie With Love,” which ended with the ominous chant from the crowd: “The South Will Rise Again.”
In 2013, the Associated Student Body rejected a resolution to ban “Dixie” from the games.
The fight over the Colonel Reb mascot proved a monumental step after a contentious “election” during which the plantation-owner throwback was replaced by the black bear. Colonel Reb was first designed in 1937, and served as the official mascot from 1979 to 2003. To this day, individuals can be found wandering the Grove dressed in their own Colonel Reb outfits, posing for pictures with children and fans.
The college’s public-relations department directed calls back to the athletics department, and the Lyceum, the university’s administrative hub, pointed reporters back to the public-relations department for comment.
Reporter Tim Summers Jr. served as managing editor and a writer at The Daily Mississippian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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