And the winner is…

It is no surprise that in 1936, the winning selection for the University of Mississippi athletic teams was “Rebels.”  Following Coach Walker’s suggestion to ask sports editors in the south to add suggestions along with those of the students and alumni, hundreds of names were suggested.  The papers did not print all of the “hundreds” of suggestions, but the leading first place suggestion was Rebels, with Raiders as second, and Confederates and Stonewalls were “considered out of the race” (Ole Miss “Rebels” Leading, Clarion-Ledger, June 8, 1936, p. 7).  The item does not specify how many sports editors responded to the request, but editors from the Meridian Star, the McComb Enterprise  and the Birmingham News “enthusiastically (and heartily) endorsed Rebels.”  Editor for the Hattiesburg American asked for the university alone designate the teams.

One of the few dissenters in the well defined drive by sports writers to name the University of Mississippi athletic teams the “Ole Miss Rebels” was Ed Danforth of the Atlanta Georgian, who had his own name to endorse, “The Mules.” (In View of Faulkner’s Piece, “Mules” No Good, July 13, 1936, Clarion-Ledger, p. 9)

According to the story, Danforth was “easily one of the most brilliant sports scribes of the nation” but decided not to press for “Mules” after reading Faulkner’s description of mules in Sartoris wherein Faulkner’s mules:

  • won the prone South from beneath the iron heel of Reconstruction and taught it pride again through humility, and courage through adversity overcome…
  • accomplished the well-nigh impossible despite hopeless odds, by sheer vindictive patience…
  • ugly, untiring and perverse, he can be moved neither by reason, flatter nor promise of reward…

After reading that pen sketch of the mule, this column feels it must withdraw the suggestion that Ole Miss name its football team “The Mules.”  Ole Miss cannot be anything like that. (Clarion-Ledger, July 13, 1936)

It is unclear from the articles whether Mr. Danforth was doing some “brilliant sports writing” or not.  The Rebels were officially declared the ‘cognomen’ of the University athletic teams July 21.  Eighteen ballots were cast for Rebels by sports editors (it is not named how many were involved) and the committee members, alumni, and athletic association agreed.

Now lest you think the athletic teams had been without a name the entire time since football was established in 1893, you are now entering the Flood zone.  Yep, you heard right: the first name for the University of Mississippi athletic teams was “the Mississippi Flood”…a name that did not at all go over well, although it was indeed the moniker from 1929-1933.  The first objection, raised by the editor of the Columbus Commercial Dispatch was that it was unpleasant, due to the 1927 destructive flood, and no one wanted to be reminded of it every week.  Second, 

The name Mississippi Flood is obviously an imitation of the title achieved by Alabama, which is known as the Crimson Tide. But there is a difference between the two. Alabama earned its title because it overwhelmed its opponents as a rising tide. Thus far the records of the Ole Miss football team would hardly justify the selection of a sobriquet of unconquerableness. As a matter of fact a more appropriate name might have been chosen as the Mississippi Bubble. (Protest Naming Athletic Teams “Mississippi Flood.” Nov. 27, 1929. The Greenwood Commonwealth, p. 4)

Prominent Columbus businessmen joined the protest and said “the thinking men and women of Mississippi would not approve of the name selected by the committee” and that it emphasized an impression that the “entire state” of Mississippi is a flood area.  In further protest, The Laurel Morning Call opined

…the youngsters at the University were intent only on gaining a snappy and impressive title for the color bearers of their school, and never realized that when University teams go into other states..they represent not only the University but the state itself. As representatives of the University of Mississippi it matters little what its teams are named; but as representatives of the State of Mississippi, it matters a great deal. (Nov. 29, 1929, p. 4)

The opinion further stated that Mississippi had “suffered enough” from publicity throughout the nation and to give the team a flood name would “intensify this harmful publicity and perpetuate it for all time.” [Was this ominously prescient or what?]  After a few more anecdotes of why the Flood would be so harmful, they concluded:

It is sincerely hoped that the University authorities will re-open the matter…and adopt a name which would not be hurtful to the State’s interests.

A year later, Coach Walker took the Mississippi Flood to Chicago, and in 1933 at homecoming, the Mississippi Flood met up with the mountain men of Sewanee.  Another feature was announced as the University of Alabama freshman squad would meet the “baby Flood.”  Clearly, more ‘informed’ heads prevailed by 1936, when in the best interests of the state, Rebels was selected over Raiders, Confederates, and Stonewalls and the student body would go on to display sanctioned re-enactments

…to pay their respects to the Old South and the days of the Confederacy by seceding from the union for a week. Some of the earlier practices–such as holding a slave auction and reviving the Ku Klux Kan–are gone, but the spirit of the celebration lives on….The Stars and Bars of the Confederacy will replace the Stars and Stripes for the entire week.

Associated Body President…and his cabinet will “secede” from the Union…Dixie Week highlights will include enlistment in the Confederate Army and the Confederate Dames…a pageant will be held in front of the Lyceum Building…depicting the Southern ante-bellum mansion and family with Confederate Army encampment in the Circle. (Dixie Week Nears. Nov. 19, 1956. Clarion-Ledger, p. 2)

Yet the prominent businessmen of the state were concerned that naming the athletic team the Mississippi Flood would send a bad impression and be hurtful and harmful to the state “for all time.”  Good thing they changed that name.

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6 Responses to And the winner is…

  1. Beth says:

    I’ve never heard of the 1956 secession – wow! That was another era for sure. But, I’m fond of the Rebel name as I grew up wearing t-shirts with a picture of Colonel Reb and the slogan “I’m a little Rebel from Ole Miss”. I can’t imagine the school being anything else and I’ve never associated it with the Confederacy.. Someone was drinking a little ‘shine when they thought of The Flood way back when!

    • Suzassippi says:

      I got the impression they did it every year, but I do not know what year it started or when it ended. I know they carried out re-enactments and parades representing pre-Civil War days for a long time until the University finally banned them. It was getting harder and harder to recruit qualified faculty, and enrollment was down and debt up. Chancellor Khayat was instrumental in turning that around with the Great American Public University vision. Even after I got here in 2003, it was still very overt in many ways as there were plenty of folks then and now who do associate the school and the symbols of the past with the confederacy.

  2. janebye says:

    I kinda like the Flood! 🙂 Reminds me of some NBA teams, I guess, who have names like “Thunder” and “Heat” and “Suns.”

    Interesting history! Yes, changing the name from Flood to Rebels certainly got rid of that dreaded stigma for all time. LOL

    • Suzassippi says:

      It is kind of funny that they began calling them the Landshark defense that year the program was so awesome. That is how the Landshark became the mascot, and somewhere I still have my Landshark bracelet that one of the football players in my class gave me. So yea, maybe they should go back to the Flood–I mean since we revere our history and heritage so much, right?

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