Let Ole Miss be Ole Miss

By Robert Lee Long
Published: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I am not an apologist for the Southland that I love, nor do I make excuses for the racist demagoguery and violent excesses of its often tumultous history.

However, the decision by the University of Mississippi to abolish the playing of the beautiful anthem “From Dixie With Love,” is just downright silly and foolish. Political correctness run amok.

My friend, the late great Mississippi writer Willie Morris, used to say that the anthem often brought tears to his eyes. In his later works, he championed the anthem as a medley of reconciliation of sorts, blending the Confederate Army’s “Dixie” with the Union Army’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

I wholeheartedly agree. As a version of the “American Trilogy,” it’s the same anthem that Elvis Presley sang each night as the television station in my hometown signed off the air.

It’s a peculiarly American anthem, evoking feelings of pride, sadness, pain and glory of the tragedy and triumph that helped shape and unite this nation. I used to stay up late just to hear the haunting medley before I drifted off to sleep.

When I wrote for The Reflector, the college newspaper at Mississippi State University, I defended the right of students at Ole Miss to brandish their school symbols without fear of reprisal. The cowbell had been a similar target at MSU.

I caught flak from fellow MSU students at the time, who were of the opinion that a wounded and dispirited foe whose long-cherished symbols had been stripped away was easier to defeat on the football field.

Ole Miss has taken great steps, some might say quantum leaps, to put its racist past behind it.

A statue of James Meredith, the U.S. Army veteran who broke the color barrier at Ole Miss, now adorns the Grove.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2008 presidential debate on the Ole Miss campus and my chest swelled with pride at how effectively the university pulled it off.

The vision of a tall black man, who was running for President of the United States, and his pretty wife striding into the Gertrude Ford Center as they waved to the crowd outside, is a sight I will never forget.

I had to remind myself this was Oxford, Mississippi, the same town that songwriter Bob Dylan wrote about in his 60s-era ditty, “Oxford Town,” about the Ole Miss riots of 1962 which left two persons dead.

I had goosepimples at the irony of it all.

The fact is the South has, and will, continue to rise as it comes to terms with its past and paves the way for its future.

The region is an emerging economic power, and it’s high quality of life and rich culture attracts an estimated 40 million people a year, many of whom decide to call Mississippi home.

Fight prejudice, fight racism at every turn, but for goodness sake, let Ole Miss be Ole Miss.

This State fan wouldn’t have it any other way.

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