Forgetting Ole Times at Ole Miss

Well, it finally happened. Earlier today, the University of Mississippi Athletics Department got a jump on the college football season by banning “Dixie” from all athletic events. This is a story I’ve been following for years, as it was a major part of my chapter on memory in Battle Hymns. The controversy at Ole Miss is a perfect example of how difficult, even impossible, it is to separate Confederate symbols from their white supremacist legacy (the flag being the other prominent example). The song’s author, Daniel Decatur Emmett, never intended “Dixie” to be the anthem of a pro-slavery southern state, but Confederates imprinted that meaning on the song and white supremacists reinforced it for decades after, giving “Dixie” a permanent subtext odious to most people. The Civil War generation left their mark on numerous songs (the multiple lyrics and associations given to the melody for “John Brown’s Body” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is the northern equivalent) and we can’t help but hear those songs the way they did. “Dixie” is no exception. For years, Ole Miss tried to dilute that context by pairing “Dixie” with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” but these efforts ultimately failed, as audiences made the song’s pro-Confederate associations explicit by chanting “The South shall rise again” over the “Battle’s Hymn’s” “His truth is marching on.” Read More

Dan Emmett, author of “Dixie,” turns 200.

 

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Daniel Decatur Emmett, one of the founders of minstrelsy and author of “Dixie,” was born 200 years ago today. To mark the occasion, I wrote a guest post on the awesome history blog, We’re History, about Emmett’s life and legacy. Head over there and check it out.

“One of the Best Tunes I Have Ever Heard.”

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150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln publicly declared his love for the song “Dixie.” Having just returned from the recently-captured former Confederate capital of Richmond, he settled back into the White House and soon found himself “treated” to a serenade. These were a common occurrence in 19th Century America, in which groups of people would perform music outside of the homes of people they admired as a show of respect. I put “treated” in quotations because the serenade’s recipient was expected to respond and Lincoln reportedly hated coming up with the necessary little impromptu speeches. According to his contemporary biographer, Joseph Hartwell Barnett, Lincoln once declared (with typical folksiness), “These serenades bother me a good deal, they are so hard to make. I feel very much like the steam doctor, who said he could get along well enough in his way of practice with almost every case, but he was always a little puzzled when it came to mending a broken leg.” Read More