Another Sports Mascot Bites the Dust

Another Sports Mascot Bites the Dust

“The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant: It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” – Ronald Reagan 

Colonel Reb is the traditional mascot of the University of Mississippi (the “Ole Miss Rebels”), the collegiate athletic teams of the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”). First designed in 1938, the figure resembles a white-bearded old man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and leaning on a cane. Some say the mascot represents the ideal of the “Southern gentleman” of the Antebellum Age. However, to others, he is a caricature of a white plantation owner. In 2003, the University dumped the mascot in an effort to distance the school from Old South stereotypes. In 1997, the school banned the waving of Confederate flags at sporting events. In 2009, the band stopped playing the fight song, “From Dixie with Love,” to discourage the fan chant, “The South will rise again.” In 2003, the administration eliminated Colonel Reb from the sidelines at Ole Miss athletic events as the on-the-field mascot, though he was allowed at tailgating and other unofficial university functions. The School has been without an official mascot ever since.

Yesterday (February 23),  an online referendum was held which gave the students a chance to vote on the mascot. However, their choices were limited — replace the colonel with something else or remain the only school in the Southeastern Conference without a mascot. The students voted 2,510 to 856 to replace the mascot although it is unclear at this time what the new mascot will be. Ironically, according to historian David Sansung and others, the model for the original Colonel Reb was an African-American man, James Ivy, affectionately known on campus as “Blind Jim.” According to Sansing, “If you look at the photo of Blind Jim in the three-piece suit, with the hat, there’s a striking resemblance. The original Colonel Rebel emblem is a spitting image of Blind Jim Ivy, except for white skin.”

Blind Jim Ivy was a campus fixture until his death in 1955, seven years before the school was integrated in 1962. He was an integral part of the University of Mississippi. My father, who attended Ole Miss during the post war years of 1946 through 1950, has talked about him often to my brother and me.

Blind Jim was born in 1870, and was the son of African slave Matilda Ivy. He moved from Alabama to Mississippi in 1890. He was blinded in his early teens when coal tar paint got into his eyes while painting the Tallahatchie River Bridge. Ivy was considered the university’s mascot for many years and was known as “the dean of freshmen” for his many pep talks to incoming Ole Miss Freshmen classes. Ivy attended most Ole Miss athletic events and was fond of saying, “I’ve never seen Ole Miss lose.”

The students voted to have another mascot. Why? One can only speculate. “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.” Koriann Porter, an African-American sophomore, who collected more than 1,700 student signatures in support of a new mascot, indicated that much has changed on campus since the civil rights era. The school is now devoted to embracing its diversity, and 15 percent of the 18,344 students are black. The state has a black population of 37.2 percent. Hannah Loy, a senior from Natchez said, “The majority of students I talked to feel they’d rather have no mascot if they can’t have Colonel Reb, and that’s going to be evident,” She is part of the Colonel Reb Foundation, which urged the students to vote “no” to a new mascot.

In 2003, the student government held a vote. Of the 1,687 votes cast, 94 percent wanted to keep the mascot. “They’re messing with something that doesn’t need to be messed with,” a student told the school newspaper, the Daily Mississippian. “It’s getting on our nerves. They’re messing with history.” At that time, Brian Ferguson, chairman of the Colonel Reb Foundation and a junior marketing student, said “It’s just a handful of people who feel Colonel Reb needs to go. The majority want to keep him.” Well, he’s gone now.

Will this cause a financial backlash from some of the older alumni? Alumnus Bob Dunlap, age 80, said he has donated about $1 million to Ole Miss Athletics over the years, but he’ll likely stop if Colonel Reb is removed from the campus entirely. He said the vote is unnecessary. “Everybody liked that little guy at those ball games,” Dunlap said. “They just create a lot of bad feeling when they do these type of things.”

Many, including this writer, believe that Colonel Reb was a victim of political correctness. Many believe that if Colonel Rebel is banned for good this year, the nickname Rebels may soon follow.

But back to Blind Jim. In listening to my Dad and other former students of that era talk about Blind Jim, he was indeed widely loved and respected by the Ole Miss students. Once I heard one of Dad’s classmates talking about a pep rally at the Peabody in Memphis and how great it was. He noted that Blind Jim was there. I asked Dad, how did he get there if he was blind?” Dad responded, “The students brought him. They take him everywhere.”

Did anyone consider Mr. James “Blind Jim” Ivy when this vote was orchestrated.