Ole Miss head wants song halted over South chant

Published 3:34 pm Thursday, November 12, 2009

The University of Mississippi’s first-year chancellor followed through on a promise Tuesday and asked the band to stop playing a pep song because some fans are chanting “the South will rise again” at the end of the medley.

“Here at the University of Mississippi, there must be no doubt that this is a warm and welcoming place for all,” Dan Jones wrote Tuesday in a letter to the university community. “We cannot even appear to support those outside our community who advocate a revival of racial segregation. We cannot fail to respond.”

Dan Jones said last week he’d ask the band to take “From Dixie With Love” off its play list if the chant continued during the Northern Arizona-Ole Miss football game Saturday in Oxford. Jones said the chant was heard.

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Jones, who became chancellor in July, did not specify how long the song at Rebels games will be off limits, but he said elected student leaders can request its return if the chant stops. The tune blends the Confederate Army’s fight song, “Dixie,” with the Union Army’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The band has played “From Dixie With Love” before and after athletic events for about two decades. The practice of some fans chanting “the South will rise again” started in the past five years or so.

A message left at the home of band director David Willson, who has held the job 19 years, was not immediately returned.

The university has struggled for decades with symbolism that some see as racially divisive, including its mascot and the waving of Confederate flags at games.

Nickolaus Luckett, a 20-year-old junior from Drew and co-chairman of diversity affairs for student government, said he doesn’t like the chant or the song “Dixie,” but believes Jones had offered a compromise designed to satisfy people with a broad range of opinions.

Luckett said Jones was right to ask the band to stop playing the song after some students continued using the chant.

“I think it was something that needed to happen,” Luckett said. “He said he was going to do it and the students came and directly disobeyed him.”

The university’s alumni association and coaches and some high-profile financial supporters, including Netscape founder Jim Barksdale, have said the chant should stop. But some students and fans see Jones’ move as a restriction on free speech.

Beverly J. Clark of Jackson, who took graduate courses at Ole Miss in the mid-1970s, said Jones should not take away the chant or the song.

“He’s not taking into consideration the thousands and thousands of people who love Ole Miss. There was nothing harmful about that chant,” Clark said. “They’ve been trying to put some meaning behind it that’s just not there. It’s just not fair.”

Six years ago, university officials decided not to have an on-field mascot during sporting events, getting rid of the long-standing Colonel Rebel, a white-haired old man who carries a cane and resembles a plantation owner. At the time, school officials had said they needed a more athletic-looking mascot.

In 1997, student leaders approved a resolution asking Ole Miss fans to stop waving Rebel flags at athletic events. University officials then banned people from bringing sticks into games — a move that dramatically curtailed the decades-long practice of fans’ carrying the flag.

Jones’ predecessor, Robert Khayat, said the Confederate flag had been used by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and it was not in the university’s best interest to use it as a symbol.

Two people were killed on campus in 1962 during riots when the first black student, James Meredith, was enrolled at the university. Federal marshals had to protect Meredith during the court-ordered enrollment.