Voting today at Ole Miss on replacing Colonel Reb

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Colonel Reb shall not rise again. That much is certain.

The University of Mississippi dumped the mascot — a caricature of a white plantation owner — in a 2003 effort to distance the school from Old South stereotypes. It’s been without a mascot ever since. A vote today could change that.

Students will have only two choices in the online referendum: yes, replace the colonel with something else — perhaps a riverboat gambler or a colonial soldier — or no, remain the only school in the Southeastern Conference without a mascot.

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In a world where football is akin to religion, and sports symbolism carries the power of a totem, this is no small matter. Stories about the upcoming vote have run prominently in the campus newspaper for weeks, along with “Save Colonel Reb” advertisements.

“We’re tired of having nothing to represent us,” said junior Josh Hinton, a member of the Associated Student Body, which approved a resolution calling for the vote. “We’ve gotten our song taken away. We want to have some kind of tradition back.”

Ole Miss, with its pristine lawns and white-columned buildings, has struggled for more than a decade with how to retain that tradition while shedding symbols of the Old South. It’s all an effort to remove past racial tensions that date to 1962, when a deadly riot followed James Meredith’s attempt to become the first black student.

In 1997, the school ended the waving of Confederate flags at sporting events. Then Colonel Reb was booted off the field. Last year, the band stopped playing the fight song, “From Dixie with Love,” to discourage the fan chant, “The South will rise again.”

Richard McKay, vice president of the Associated Student Body, said he had received some hate e-mail about the vote.

Still, Colonel Reb hasn’t disappeared altogether from the university. Ole Miss holds the license to the image so it’s still on bumper stickers, lapel pins and other merchandise on display at Rebel games.

Other vestiges of the Old South can also be found on campus. The Mississippi state flag, with its Confederate battle emblem, is still flown and the team nickname remains the Rebels.