Debate over Colonel Reb will be ugly

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Here we go again. Our great state is about to be dragged through the mud over changing a symbol that some say is racially offensive while others argue it to be a symbol of heritage.

I’m talking about none other than ol’ Colonel Reb, the mascot of the University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss.

It seems just yesterday we were engaged in a battle over whether or not to change the state flag, a debate that ended with the Legislature opting out of responsibility and instead turning the pleasure to the good people of our state in a semi-historic vote that preserved our current banner.

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Of course, this debate could be different. It should not involve the entire state &045; just a university and its alumni.

More important, the administrative leadership of this institution &045; unlike the aforementioned Legislature &045; is already taking a stand for change, letting their position be quite known and clearly so.

But do not be fooled. The fact that this symbol is close to the hearts of only Ole Miss fans and alumni will not keep it from being a mainstream topic of conversation, nor something that will not wind up as a news item in media outlets across the nation.

If we, as Southerners, have learned nothing else by now it should be that those who do not come from here cannot understand the complications of our history and heritage and the stubborn &8220;realities&8221; that for some reason do not allow us to move forward in being a more open and accepting society.

Therefore, we are all &045; all whites, that is &045; portrayed as having racist tendencies by the media north, east and west of here and by Hollywood. Such stereotypical colorings &045; pun intended &045; also paint all Southern blacks as downtrodden, weak, held back by a history and heritage and unable to make a better way for themselves.

I’m not sure which figment is more insulting, that whites are racists or that blacks are just unable to do anything for themselves.

What I do know is that the debate over Colonel Reb has already crossed color barriers, resurrected talking points (i.e. &8220;heritage&8221; and &8220;history&8221;) and been the topic of statewide media.

Associated Press stories have quoted &8220;white students&8221; as saying they see nothing wrong with Colonel Reb and &8220;black students&8221; as wanting a change.

This sad state of affairs is already starting to color this along color boundaries, and given them enough time, political and civic activists will further this inane, divisive approach to what undoubtedly is a controversial topic.

But before we jump off into this one, let us all take note of a few extremely important facts. To start, UM Athletics Director Pete Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat are both pushing for a change. These are two white men, and Khayat has deep roots in the Old South school. He was a student there, one of popularity and &045; we must assume &045; a healthy social life, making him fit the stereotypical student but not the stereotypical mindset.

Secondly, Ole Miss’ history of racial tensions should not be held against their current efforts when proponents of change start vilifying opponents of change. Over the past years, the Confederate flag and the Dixie anthem have both been &8220;done away with&8221; for the most part by the school, its administration and &045; most important &045; its student body.

Most likely, a change would better reflect the aims of the university, but change will not come easy. Nor, will the debate remain one for the school and those connected to it.

The debate over changing this symbol will become a symbol itself, a symbol of how far Mississippi has come from its days of segregation and racial insensitivity.

Sam R. Hall

is publisher of The Times-Post. He can be reached at (662) 456-3771 or by e-mail to