Mississippi, with its rich and dramatic history, holds a special place in the civil rights movement. Perhaps no other institution in that state, or in the South as a whole, has been more of a battleground for race relations or a barometer for progress than the University of Mississippi. Even the school's affectionate nickname - Ole Miss - bespeaks its place in the legacy of the South: Now used as short for Old Mississippi, "Ole Miss" was once a term of respect used by slaves for the wife of a plantation owner. Throughout the first part of this century, the state's "Boll Weevil" legislators presented the most implacable hostility to black enrollment.
The campus itself - with its stately white columns and field of Confederate flags at sporting events - seemed almost frozen in time. With the civil rights movement and the arrival of the first black student in 1962, the quietly determined James Meredith, violence and hatred erupted with regularity on the verdant campus. Even following years of progress, when a young black man and young white woman were elected "Colonel Rebel" and "Miss Ole Miss", the highest campus honors, the pair appeared in the traditional yearbook photograph separated by a picket fence, still suggesting old taboos.
Once an unrepentant enclave of educational separatism in the South, the history of Ole Miss has paralleled the nation's own in race relations: the rocky beginnings of integration following Meredith's admission; the discord of the '60s and '70s, when activist black students eschewed crew cuts and varsity sweaters for afros and clenched fists; to the delicate reconciliation of recent years. A drastically changed campus today, Ole Miss continues to wrestle with its controversial mascot, "Colonel Rebel", and questions of whether the emotional chords of "Dixie" should still be heard at its football games.
The Band Played Dixie is a penetrating look at the University of Mississippi - "Ole Miss". Nadine Cohodas (author of Spinning Blues into Gold) covers the institution's tumultuous racial history, with emphasis on how Ole Miss moved forward from the riot that erupted after James Meredith, the first African-American student, enrolled September 30, 1962.
Updated in 2012 for the 50th anniversary of the integration of Ole Miss.
©2012 Nadine Cohodas (P)2012 Iconoclassic Books
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