Letter to the Editor

Posted on May 3 2013 - 8:14am by Sean Higgins

Dear Editor,

 

In an ASB Senate Student Life Committee meeting last week, I introduced a bill that would essentially ban the song “Dixie” from University of Mississippi events. Unfortunately, the bill failed by a vote of 12 to one — I was the only committee member who voted in favor of the bill.

I wrote the resolution to ban “Dixie” because it is offensive to not only many members of our university family but also spectators at other university events. “Dixie” is a song that is heard not only by students, but also by any individual who is present in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Tad Smith Coliseum or any other event where it is played by our band.

Before I wrote the aforementioned bill, I spoke with students, faculty and staff who are offended when our band plays “Dixie.” I also spoke with those who said that they really didn’t know much about the song. History clearly shows that the original song was written by a white man to be used in blackface minstrel show performances. White men painted their faces black and sang the song in a dialect intending to humiliate blacks and portray them as uneducated.

The song “Dixie” was written from the perspective of a freed black slave longing to be back on a plantation “in the land of cotton.” It glorifies the days of slavery and suggests that for blacks, slavery was somehow better than freedom. It implies that slavery is a positive institution.

In addition, the song was the anthem of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and was later used extensively during the eras of Jim Crow and segregation by supporters who promoted many of the hateful atrocities inflicted upon blacks during these times, including the Ku Klux Klan. Even before the Civil War, the Richmond Dispatch and New York Times labeled “Dixie” as the “National Anthem of Secession.” It was also played at the inauguration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1861.

Our band started playing “Dixie” at football games in the late 1940s and early 1950s, at the same time The University of Mississippi students inaugurated “Dixie Week,” which featured a ceremonial reading of the Ordinance of Secession and a mock slave auction. Knowing these facts, it is hard to argue that The University of Mississippi originally embraced the song for reasons other than the university’s historical roots in segregation and racism. And because of these clear ties that “Dixie” has to a hurtful past, other universities — such as the University of Miami in 1968 — banned the song in the following years.

At the 20-year commemoration of the integration of our university, speaking at a black alumni reunion, James Meredith stated that there was no difference between “Dixie,” the Confederate flag and other remnants of segregation, such as white-only drinking fountains and waiting rooms. In fact, according to the book “The Band Played Dixie” by Nadine Cohodas, a group of white students protesting Meredith’s campus appearance walked out of his remarks and sang “Dixie” outside of Fulton Chapel.

There are supporters of “Dixie” who suggest that the song is not racist, but there is no accurate historical or anecdotal evidence to substantiate these claims. Yes, Abraham Lincoln enjoyed the tune of “Dixie”, but he did not support what “Dixie” came to represent.

I understand and believe that simply because someone likes the tune of “Dixie” today, it does not mean that they are racist. I have never made that contention. However, if we are going to be a great American public institution, it is disingenuous for us to sanction and embrace a song that is a relic of a past that once enslaved and discriminated against a class of people because of their skin color.

We are better people than that.

If The University of Mississippi wants to be truthful about respecting the dignity of each person in our family — as our university creed explicitly states — our band must not play “Dixie.”

I love Ole Miss and our many traditions, but I believe that a tradition that was created for the sole reason of dehumanizing blacks is intolerable. “Dixie” is one of those traditions.

Some say that we need to be slow and deliberate about making changes, but it’s been 50 years since the integration of our university, and it’s time The University of Mississippi administration do the right thing and ban “Dixie.”

 

Respectfully,

 

Sean Higgins

Sophomore Political Science and African American Studies major

[email protected]