"And Other Tunes Dear to the Hearts of Racists"

Playing "Dixie"

During the US Civil War, the popular mid-nineteenth-century minstrel song “Dixie” emerged as an unofficial national anthem of the CSA. The singing of “Dixie” became a regular occurrence at events and public gatherings, a tradition that continued after the CSA’s defeat in the Civil War.

While the song could be heard in a variety of contexts, much of the controversy reported on in Black newspapers surrounded the use of the song in schools, especially colleges and universities. The coverage of these disputes was largely generated by United Press International (UPI) reports, which were picked up and reprinted by Black newspapers.

In an editorial for the New York Amsterdam News, American civil rights leader and social worker Whitney M. Young, Jr., covered the issue as part of a report on his experience of traveling around the South. He claimed that at many Southern school events “all students, black and white, are expected to stand and sing along to the tune the soldiers of the South marched to in their war to preserve slavery.”[1] Young argued that that song symbolized the “whip and the lash” of slavery and proclaimed: “What is appropriate for a Klan is not appropriate for a school assembly.”[2]

In 1967, the Afro-American reprinted a UPI report of a state resolution in Alabama requiring all state-supported colleges and universities to play “Dixie” alongside the national anthem and state song at school events. The act was signed by Governor Lurleen Wallace. The motion also ordered Confederate flags to be waved alongside the American and state flags while the anthems were played.[3]

Quite often, controversy around “Dixie” arose alongside controversy around the Confederate flag as a school symbol. In Florida the following year, New Journal and Guide reprinted a UPI report on the University of Miami’s move to prohibit the school band from playing “Dixie” and discourage the waving of Confederate flags at sports games. The order was made by university president Dr. Henry King, a self-described “genuine Southerner,” according to the UPI. King declared, “It is not honorable to force upon a minority group the symbol of the Confederacy which, rightly or wrongly, have become so distasteful to them.”[4]

In 1969, another UPI report reprinted in the Afro-American documented the activism of a Black student group at the University of South Carolina who demanded a ban on the playing of “Dixie” and the waving of the Confederate flag at school sports games. They referred to the tradition as a “tribute to a movement that sought to destroy the United States…[and] a tribute to the peculiar institution that enslaved human beings.”[5]

Controversy around “Dixie” did not just affect institutions of higher education. In the fall of 1970, at the recently desegregated Strom Thurmond High School in South Carolina, ten Black members of the football team (nicknamed the “Rebels”) left the squad in protest of the singing of “Dixie” and the waving of the Confederate flag. Other students, including the school band, two cheerleaders, and a majorette were also reported by the UPI to have staged a protest, although details of this protest were not included in the article.[6]

Conflict over the song at Anniston High School in Alabama prompted action from an official of the NAACP. Their Associate Director of Voter Education, W.C. Patton, asked state education officials to stop the playing of the song at school activities immediately. Part of a letter Mr. Patton wrote to Alabama’s Superintendent of Education was published in the Philadelphia Tribune’s report on the incident. Mr. Patton argued that division within America can never be overcome “if any segment continues to employ acts which seek to reopen wounds of racial bigotry.”[7]

While most of the gathered articles about “Dixie” dealt with schools, a few demonstrated how “Dixie” was used outside of educational institutions. The Winston-Salem Chronicle reported that “Dixie” was played at the funeral for Byron De La Beckwith, the killer of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. In attendance were his family and local Klansmen.[8] The Carolina Times noted that the song was played for a unit of the Alabama Fourth Heavy Howitzer Battalion to celebrate their return from the Korean war. The outfit’s band played “Dixie” as the transport arrived in Washington D.C.[9]

In Alabama, it was tradition for “Dixie” to be played during the inauguration celebrations of state governors. However, at Gov. Lurleen Wallace’s inaugural parade in 1967, the Black school bands in attendance refused to play the song. The NPI reported that “rather than playing ‘Dixie’ and other tunes dear to the hearts of racists,” as the white bands did, “the Negro bands played such patriotic tunes as ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’” One Black high school band from Butler County played the “Batman” theme song as they passed the newly inaugurated governor.[10]

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the NAACP continued efforts to prohibit the singing of “Dixie”—along with the waving of the Confederate flag—at official and public events, often meeting local resistance. The Charlotte Post reprinted an editorial letter responding to this endeavor originally printed in The Charlotte Observer. The letter, written by Larry Walker, was titled, “Pride in Confederacy Not Racist.” In it, Walker called the NAACP, “asinine, ignorant individuals for incorrectly labeling the heroes and patriots of the Confederacy as racist monsters,” as phrased by the Post. Rehearsing a familiar Lost Cause trope, Walker claimed that the

Confederate flag and the singing of Dixie are representative of the awesome sacrifices made by Southern men and women to maintain the same principles of self-identity and self government [sic] for which the rebels of the colonies seceded from the British Empire in 1776.[11]

Olivia Haynie


Boulware, Marcus H… “Boulware’s Yes…We All Talk: The Origin of Dixie.” T_he Pittsburgh Courier_, October 2, 1943.

Carolina Times (Durham). “Rebel Flag on March Again.” Sep 22, 1951.

Johnson, Gerald. “As I See It: Confederate Flag A Racist Symbol?” The Charlotte Post, August 13, 1987.

Michigan Chronicle (Detroit). “Ala. Governor Says Play ‘Dixie.’” October 7, 1967.

NPI. “Negro Band in Comeuppance to Wallace, Plays Not ‘Dixie,’ But ‘Batman’ in Inaugural Parade.” Philadelphia Tribune, January 28, 1967.

Philadelphia Tribune. “Ban ‘Dixie’ From Schools, NAACP Urges.” November 22, 1969.

United Press International. “‘Dixie’ Is Team’s Fight Song; Black Pupils Rebel.” New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), October 17, 1970.

United Press International. “Students Want ‘Dixie’ Banned.” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), February 22, 1969.

United Press International. “University Band Ordered To Stop Playing ‘Dixie.’” New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), October 5, 1968.

Wikipedia. “Dixie.” Accessed July 3, 2023. [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie#Uses_of_the_term]{.underline}](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie#Uses_of_the_term)

Winston-Salem Chronicle. “Klansmen, family gather to mourn killer of civil rights leader Evers.” Feb 1, 2001.

Young, Jr., Whitney M. “Whistling Dixie.” New York Amsterdam News, Feb. 14, 1970.

  1. Young, “Whistling Dixie,” New York Amsterdam News. ↩︎

  2. Young, “Whistling Dixie,” New York Amsterdam News. ↩︎

  3. Michigan Chronicle (Detroit), “Ala. Governor Says Play ‘Dixie.’” ↩︎

  4. United Press International, “University Band Ordered To Stop Playing ‘Dixie,’” New Journal and Guide. (Norfolk, VA) ↩︎

  5. United Press International, “Students Want ‘Dixie’ Banned,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD). ↩︎

  6. United Press International, “‘Dixie’ Is Team’s Fight Song; Black Pupils Rebel,” New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA). ↩︎

  7. Philadelphia Tribune, “Ban ‘Dixie’ From Schools, NAACP Urges.” ↩︎

  8. Winston-Salem Chronicle, “Klansmen, family gather to mourn killer of civil rights leader Evers.” ↩︎

  9. Carolina Times (Durham), “Rebel Flag on March Again.” ↩︎

  10. NPI, “Negro Band in Comeuppance to Wallace, Plays Not ‘Dixie,’ But ‘Batman’ in Inaugural Parade,” Philadelphia Tribune. ↩︎

  11. Johnson, “As I See It: Confederate Flag A Racist Symbol?” The Charlotte Post. ↩︎