By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Today students will vote on whether to initiate an effort to create a new on-field mascot to replace Colonel Rebel.
The Colonel, a caricature of the quintessential Southern gentleman, was the University of Mississippi’s mascot for more than a half-century before administrators retired him in 2003. The school has been without a mascot since then.
The referendum, placed on today’s ballot by the ASB Senate, does not address bringing back the old mascot – only whether students want a replacement. The move was made after a reported 1,700 students signed a petition asking for a new mascot.
Administrators and some Ole Miss supporters have contended that the icon’s resemblance to the stereotypical Old South plantation owner makes it too racially charged to continue to represent the university.
Sarah Branford, the ASB vice president, agrees.
“If it offends one person, it should not be here,” she said in a pre-election forum. “Within the Ole Miss family I think I can very fairly say that it offended at least one person.”
Even if the students vote to have a mascot, Colonel Rebel will not be a possibility, administrators have said.
Colonel Rebel supporters say not only is the character benign but that he is actually based on a black gentleman.
The Colonel Reb Foundation (www.saveolemiss.com), headed by Ole Miss alumnus Brian Ferguson, traces him to “Blind Jim” Ivy, a mustachioed African-American peanut vendor who attended Ole Miss games in a three-piece suit and dress hat. After the name “Rebels” was picked for Ole Miss athletics teams in 1936, Colonel Rebel appeared two years later as a sketch in the campus yearbook.
The organization goes on to quote history professor emeritus Dr. David Sansing, author of the university’s sesquicentennial history, as saying, “The original Colonel Rebel emblem is a spitting image of Blind Jim Ivy, except for white skin.”
After Colonel Reb was removed from Ole Miss games, an unofficial lookalike dubbed Colonel Too frequented Ole Miss’ stadium and coliseum until he was also banned last fall.
The support movement generated some 8,500 members on Facebook before its messaging was locked down. A similar group quickly launched in its place.
“The group got started Friday afternoon, and just over the weekend it’s gotten more than 2,000 students,” Ferguson said.
Hannah Loy, a student representative on the foundation, hopes students will vote no on today’s referendum.
“Our basic message is that we don’t want a new mascot,” she said. “We’d rather have no mascot at all.”