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Sunday, November 22, 2009

From Dixie With Love

Glory, Glory Hallelujah... the South will rise again?

There's been trouble a-brewin' down at Ole Miss, and it all stems around a song, From Dixie with Love, that has been played for two decades by the Pride of the South, the University of Mississippi's marching band. The song may have reached its last refrain, as the Ole Miss chancellor has ordered the song ceased after the student section made a new tradition of chanting, "The South will rise again!" Understandably, there are mixed feelings in Mississippi and nation- and world-wide about this.

Before I go much further, I want to lay all my cards on the table: Things you may or may not know about me, Curtis, the author of this blog, whether you've been reading for a minute or a year. I'm a Black man. I'm a native yankee, but now live in rebel territory. I consider the Confederate States of America to be a terrorist organization. I'm a student affairs professional who works in higher education. I have a passion for tradition and school spirit. I'm a musician and a band dork, and I spent a significant portion of my life in either marching band or pep band. While I wouldn't consider myself a Civil War scholar, I think I do know a little something about the subject. Ditto for race relations in America. And while each of the facts above informs my opinion, I speak for none of the groups above when stating it.

First, let's talk about the song in question, From Dixie with Love. It's a beautiful piece of music with perhaps an even more beautiful symbolism. A staple of Ole Miss' pregame for some time now, From Dixie blends Dixie, the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, with Battle Hymn of the Republic, the anthem of the Union Army (which, despite that, has become quite popular down south--right Georgia? Auburn?) It takes its basis from An American Trilogy, popularized by Elvis Presley, a Mississippi native, which also included both songs. Its intent was harmony between the two once-warring factions. But recently, Ole Miss student have begun chanting, "The South will rise again!" over the last stanza. The controversy embroiled in this new tradition led to the Pride of the South altering the arrangement so as not to leave room for the phrase, Ole Miss' student government to pass a resolution discouraging it, and ultimately, the chancellor asking the band to refrain from playing the song at all. This didn't make some too happy, including Ku Klux Klan themselves, who staged a demonstration on Ole Miss' campus. (Many Ole Miss students, faculty, and alumni wouldn't stand for this, however.)

My thoughts? I think it's much ado about nothing. First of all, the removal of the song with the intent to remove the phrase is but a small gesture when it comes to things that could be construed as offensive vis-a-vis the Confederacy. First of all Ole Miss' mascot is still the Rebels. Their slavemaster "southern gentleman" mascot, Colonel Reb, has been official retired by the University, but can still be readily seen and associated with the school. And perhaps most egregious, Ole Miss is the flagship of Mississippi, the one state in the union to continue to incorporate the Confederate battle flag into its state flag. Given these facts, what's "The South will rise again" in comparison? Besides, what's to say there aren't some who use the phrase simply as a shorter form of "The South shall rise again as a tolerant and progressive region that celebrates differences and seeks through understanding to lead this great nation to an even better place"? OK, that may not be exactly what they mean, but at face value, I don't see a problem with being proud to be a southerner, and I think some are expressing exactly that. To me, the South--a geographical direction and a region of the country since its inception--and the Confederacy--a terrorist nation [sic] that existed for precisely four years for the sole purpose of opposing and attempting to defeat the nation I love and call home--are two different things.

I'm also intrigued by the manner in which the University is seeking to remedy the situation--by eliminating the song to which it was latched to me, that's cutting off your nose to spite your face. This isn't College Park, where Rock and Roll Pt. II was banned to prevent chants of "Hey, You Suck!" (though they Terps among us will vouch for that as a campus tradition as well). From Dixie with Love was an integral part of the Pride of the South's pregame, and while it's only a 20 year tradition, it has clearly been seen through generations of students, including generations of the band members who play it. What will become of their pregame? A campus tradition threatens to go by the wayside because some students saw fit to hijack it.

Now I will admit, I make these statements sitting a comfortable distance from Oxford. Some of the stories have been speaking of strained race relations otherwise at Ole Miss (really? No...) and if this helps in some manner, large or small, it may be the best thing to do. But from where I sit, it seems to me we're making a mountain out of a molehill.
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