Students at the University of Mississippi have started a campaign to replace the school’s longtime mascot Colonel Reb with Admiral Ackbar, leader of the Rebel Fleet in Star Wars. Colonel Reb was retired in 2003 because “coaches and athletic boosters concluded that C. Reb and other symbols of the Confederacy hurt the school’s recruiting prospects.” The movement has attracted national attention, and Lucasfilm says that they may license the use of Ackbar by Ole Miss.
Both science fiction fans and Confederacy-haters have reason to cheer this development. Given my view of the Confederacy (see here and here, and here), I fall into both categories. From a competitive standpoint, it also makes good sense to replace a mascot who represented an evil cause that failed with one that symbolizes a just cause that won. Winners make better mascots than losers.
The Ole Miss Rebel Alliance – the student group promoting Ackbar as the new mascot – originally did so as a joke. But they also acted for the more serious purpose of preventing the reinstatement of Colonel Reb:
Six days before the Ole Miss student body was called to vote on whether to accept the responsibility of developing a new mascot, four students came together to fill a void for those who were ready to lay Colonel Reb to rest.
Drawing comedic inspiration from a squid-like Star Wars character, Tyler Craft, Matthew Henry, Joseph Katool and Ben McMurtray launched the Ole Miss Rebel Alliance and unwittingly introduced Admiral Ackbar as a potential mascot candidate....
A Web site was created featuring the now-viral image of Ackbar dressed in a red hat and jacket similar to that of his predecessor....
“We started this as sort of a fun thing,” Craft said. “We did it with satire, fun and a little comedy. Admiral Ackbar represented the people who wanted to move forward, which apparently was a good portion of the campus.”
Ole Miss students got the joke, and through parody emerged another contender in the battle for a new mascot.
On one side stood the Colonel Reb Foundation, developed shortly after the former mascot’s removal in 2003, who launched a widespread advertising campaign in the days leading up to the vote encouraging students to oppose creating a new mascot.
McMurtray said it was obvious there was no organization pushing for the ‘yes’ vote.
“No independent organizations really voiced their support (for a new mascot), so that was our goal – to try to be that organization,” McMurtray said.
Those looking for an alternative to the colonel’s salvation suddenly had a common, albeit laughable, rallying point.
And rally they did. More than 2,500 students voted in favor of finalizing the university’s seven-year disassociation with its former mascot.
Suddenly, four jokesters found themselves at the forefront of not only a campus movement, but a national media blitz – one that removed focus from a university clinging to images representative of its divisive past to one where students were ready to move on.
Since the 1960s, scholars have spoken of the rise of a New South that is beginning to transcend the region’s legacy of slavery and segregation. The state of Mississippi was once one of the most segregationist of all, and the University of Mississippi was famously resistant to the admission of black students. This change is a small but interesting indication of the broader changes in the South over the last two generations. The legacy of segregation and the Myth of the Lost Cause certainly aren’t completely dead. But even at Ole Miss they are on their way out.