ole miss

(1991) Oxford, Mississippi – I lost count of just how many times the University of Mississippi band played “Dixie” last Saturday while the Rebels were upsetting Georgia 17-13. The number had to be in the double figures, however. There were 31,000 at the game. Everybody who wasn’t from Georgia had a Confederate flag.

Before the game began, there had been a prayer.  And two guys sitting in front of me each brought in a bottle of Jim Beam. All this prompted my friend Bugar Seely, a veteran Georgia fan, to say, “They still wave the flag, still sing “Dixie,” and they can still pray, and they can still bring liquor into the game. No wonder they beat us.”

It hasn’t been easy being Mississippi, I was thinking. You read those surveys and Mississippi always seems to come up a loser in such things as education and poverty levels.  And then there was the movie “Mississippi Burning,” which portrayed the entire State as a roost for drawling, ignorant racists.

The University of Mississippi once at least had good football teams to help the self-image. Those were the days of national championships and major bowl games.  But all that went away too. Ole Miss football has been in a mostly tattered state the last fifteen years.  I guess that’s why they celebrated as they did here Saturday when Georgia had fallen.

An Ole Miss football game in Oxford is a trip in a time machine.  A trip backward.  Said a Georgia fan, “I was walking through the campus and I saw fraternity boys in coats and ties with their dates, who were in heels. Then I heard somebody playing “Dixie” on a trumpet.  I kept looking around for Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future.”

The Georgia band doesn’t play “Dixie” anymore. And fear of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit has stopped public prayer before Georgia football games.  If you brought a Confederate flag into Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, there’d be a march on the president’s office, and security guards check to make certain nobody is bringing any cheering booster into the stadium, too.

After the game here Saturday, students and alumni gathered in a shady lane called the Grove. Ten or so members of the band joined them. And the Ole Miss people were still waving those flags, and the little band was still playing “Dixie.” It was 1958.

So I asked a guy, “How can you people get away with playing “Dixie,” waving your flags, praying before the game, and bringing booze in?” “We’re not supposed to,” he replied.  “But we do it anyway.”

And where do black people fit into all this?

The football team was filled with blacks, two members of the miniband were black, and there was a black family standing outside their van, eating chicken and taking an active part in the postgame celebration.

I’m no sociologist, but does it say anything that everybody in that scenario seemed to be getting along nicely? Maybe Mississippians, both black and white, have it figured out. The key to any sort of coexistence is tolerance . . . . Good luck Rebels, for the rest of the season.

This essay, first published in 1991, is taken from You Can’t Put No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll.

Lewis Grizzard

Lewis Grizzard (1946-1991) was a Southern humorist and newspaper columnist who irritated Yankees every time he picked up his pen or opened his mouth.

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