The University of Mississippi’s marching band will no longer play any variation of the song “Dixie” – a tradition some seven decades old at football games and other sporting events.
The University’s Athletic Department confirmed to Mississippi Today on Friday that the song, which was the unofficial anthem of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, will no longer be played at athletic events.
Ole Miss Athletics director Ross Bjork said that the decision was made by the Athletic Department, and Chancellor Jeff Vitter was informed beforehand.
“We felt that it’s the right thing to do. It’s time to move forward,” Bjork said. “It fits in with where the university has gone in terms of making sure we follow our creed, core values of the athletic department, and that all people feel welcome.
“The Athletics Department asked (the band) to create a new and modern pregame show that does not include Dixie and is more inclusive for all fans,” the University Athletic Department said in a statement released after Mississippi Today asked about the song being dropped.
The statement put the dropping of “Dixie” in the context of renovations made this year to improve the fan experience at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, where the Ole Miss football team plays home games.
“It’s a fan friendly environment on game day in that we are inclusive,” Bjork said. “That should include our words, actions and pageantry. And music also goes into that.”
The songs “Dixie,” “Dixie fanfare,” and a pregame arrangement containing themes of “Dixie” will no longer be played by the band, known as the The Pride of the South. Band directors, who chose not to provide comment for this story, were made aware of the Athletics Department’s decision over the summer.
The move comes after at least a year of coordinated efforts to limit the playing of the song.
During games in the 2015 football season and the 2015-2016 basketball season, the band did not play the song. Before all seven home games last season, the song was played 14 times – in the pregame Grove concert and on the field before the games kicked off.
The band omitted the song from its on-field pregame performance on Jan. 1 at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
The song was first played by the Ole Miss band around 1948, said David Sansing, Ole Miss professor emeritus of history and author of the sesquicentennial history of the university. The band has been an Ole Miss fixture since 1928.
For the university, “1948 was the centennial celebration, and that’s when Ole Miss was cloaked and covered with all the memorabilia of the Confederacy,” Sansing said.
“’Dixie’ may have been played a little bit sooner than ‘48, but I don’t think so,” he added. “I think it really was adopted around the combination of the centennial and the Dixiecrat movement in the South.”
Marching band members are in camp this week in Oxford, learning music and drill the week before class starts at the university. The full Pride of the South band will travel to Orlando, Fla., for the Rebels’ Labor Day football match-up against the Florida State Seminoles.
This is the second time in seven years the university has moved to sever ties with some form of the song “Dixie.” In 2009, former Chancellor Dan Jones asked the band to stop playing “From Dixie With Love,” an arrangement that morphed “Dixie” with the Union Army’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” because some fans continually chanted “the South will rise again” during a verse.
Jones’ decision to remove that song garnered criticism from many Ole Miss fans and alumni – many of whom called for his removal. Jones’ contract as chancellor was not renewed in 2014. The song controversy was not mentioned publicly as a reason for that action.
After two Ole Miss students tied a rope noose and a flag showing the Confederate battle flag around the neck of the statue of James Meredith, who integrated the university in 1962, Jones commissioned a study that assessed Confederate symbols and imagery on campus. The findings of that study produced numerous proposed changes to contextualize the university’s history.
Vitter, who officially filled the post Jan. 1, has communicated his efforts to continue implementing changes from Jones’ study.
The university’s move is the latest in a years-long effort to distance itself from Confederate imagery as it relates to athletics. In 2003, the university removed the on-field mascot “Colonel Reb,” who many said resembled a plantation owner. University students selected “Rebel Black Bear” as the new on-field mascot in 2010.
In 1997, former Chancellor Robert Khayat effectively banned Confederate battle flags from being waved during football games by implementing a policy disallowing sticks from being carried inside the stadium.