JACKSON, Miss. – A state lawmaker says he’s trying to protect a unique part of southern culture with a bill that would require the University of Mississippi to bring back Colonel Rebel as its mascot.
The bill by Rep. Mark DuVall, D-Mantachie, also would require the Ole Miss band to play “Dixie” and a similar song, “From Dixie With Love,” during football and basketball games.
“To me, a colonel is a leader,” DuVall told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “The same as Colonel Sanders is the leader of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Rebel is a leader of the Rebel nation.”
The proposal is generating plenty of talk around the state Capitol in Jackson and the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, but it has little chance of becoming law.
House Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Kelvin Buck said the bill will die because he won’t send it to a subcommittee for debate. DuVall said he might try to add it to a budget bill later, but legislative rules prohibit policy changes in spending bills.
Buck, D-Holly Springs, said lawmakers should not try to micromanage schools’ decisions about mascots or songs.
“We’ve got too many important issues to deal with in higher education,” Buck said.
Ole Miss has struggled for years to distance itself from Old South imagery, which administrators have said hurt the school’s academic and athletic recruiting.
The musical mandate in DuVall’s bill would overrule Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones’ 2009 decision to stop the band from playing “From Dixie With Love” because some fans were chanting “The South will rise again” at the end of the song, which blends the Confederate anthem, “Dixie,” with the Union Army’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Ole Miss teams are still called Rebels, but the university retired Colonel Reb as its sideline mascot several years ago because critics said the goateed old gentleman looks too much like a plantation owner. Supporters of Colonel Reb say he represents school spirit, not a desire to return to slavery.
“I don’t understand how he got this racial stereotype,” DuVall said.
The university conducted an online vote last year for students, alumni and season-ticket holders to choose a new mascot, and Colonel Reb was not on the ballot. The winner was a black bear named Rebel, which is supposed to debut on the sidelines sometime this year.
The bear has been widely mocked by fans who don’t want a change in mascots.
Ole Miss spokesman Mitchell Diggs said the university does not have a position on DuVall’s bill.
Dr. Christopher Cummins, a physician who lives in Blue Springs and practices in Ripley, said he has been an Ole Miss fan since he was a child but has stopped going to football games because he’s unhappy about Colonel Reb being taken off the sidelines.
“Other states and areas and regions of the country and the world if their cultures are distinct and important and to be respected, I just think ours deserves a place just like everybody else’s,” Cummins said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The bill has generated good-natured teasing among lawmakers who are Mississippi State fans, including Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.
“I really don’t want to mess in Yogi Bear’s affairs,” Frierson said in a jab at the black bear.
The bill is House Bill 1106.