For football fans south of the Mason-Dixon Line, over the past couple of years a new phrase has become common among the fan bases of what is arguably college football's toughest conference, the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The phrase goes: "Love God, Sweet Tea, and the SEC." This phrase is starting to become as sacrosanct as the American flag, apple pie, and motherhood among fans.
The conference was founded in 1932, and coincidentally, every school in the SEC is either located in a state that seceded from the Union in the lead-up to the American Civil War, or in the case of Missouri and Kentucky, had partisan factions within the Confederate Congress and was part of the territory that the Confederacy claimed during the war. With a history as traditional and rich as that of the South, it is no surprise that Confederate culture remains prevalent and has even made its way into the arena of college football. This prevalence of Southern culture can be demonstrated by the fact that the University of Mississippi's (more commonly known as Ole Miss's) band, the Pride of the South, plays the Confederacy's unofficial national anthem, "Dixie," when the Rebels score a big play.
Marching bands playing Confederate songs does not stop with Ole Miss. The playing of "Dixie" was a staple for many years in colleges that were outside of the SEC, such as The Citadel, the University of Virginia, the University of Miami, and Tulane University. Similarly, the University of Florida's band, the Pride of the Sunshine, still regularly plays the George Gershwin song "Swanee," a song sarcastically revolving around plantation culture, at football games.
Beginning with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, many students, primarily African-Americans, began to protest the playing of "Dixie" and other songs, stating that they invoke a Southern heritage and Confederate culture that is racist and a reminder of Jim Crow policies that promoted segregation.
When Ole Miss reestablished itself as relevant in college football again in 2003, during the playing of "Slow Dixie" (a mash up of "Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), the student section began to substitute the words "the South will rise again" in place of "his truth is marching on" (see video below at 1:58). The Ole Miss student government passed a resolution trying to incite the student section to instead chant "to hell with LSU" in place of the controversial lyrics, but to no avail. Finally, in 2009, Ole Miss's chancellor asked the band to stop performing "Slow Dixie."
Has the political correctness associated with everything Confederate gone too far? At the heart of this controversy, are college students at these Southern schools subliminally promoting racism and thoughts of segregation among students? Or could it be that SEC schools simply take pride in their Southern heritage and concede that while the Southern states' past histories of slavery aren't anything to be proud of, a state's heritage is something to recognize and culturally preserve? I am inclined to believe the latter.
The most common lyrics to "Dixie" are as follows:
Verse "I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times they are not forgotten;
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land where I was born in,
Early on one frosty mornin,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land."
Chorus "I wish I was in Dixie
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand
To live and die in Dixie
Away, away, away down south in Dixie
Away, away, away down south in Dixie."
As Humpty Dumpty famously stated in Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass, "When I use a word, . . . it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
Are we as a society attacking Ole Miss, the University of Florida, and other schools that choose to play Southern songs because of the substance of the songs, or because certain segments of our society want to believe that these institutions of higher learning are seeking to promote racism?
I think that it is fair to say that most reasonable people would concede that President Abraham Lincoln is what we in society would call "tolerant." "Dixie" was one of our most beloved president's favorite tunes, and Lincoln often used the song at whistle stops during both of his Presidential campaigns. During the American Civil War, the song even had lyrics for both causes fighting against each other.
The point of all of this is that a state's heritage isn't always something to run from. Playing a silly song at a football game isn't fueling a society of hate, but merely celebrating those who gave their lives for a cause in a war that happened many decades ago, and celebrating the common heritage that these states share.