University Of Mississippi Introduces New Mascot

fromWMPN

At the University of Mississippi, the talk on campus this week isn't about football or classes; it's about mascots. "Colonel Reb" is out and the "Rebel Black Bear" is in. The university had been without a mascot for seven years after some complained Colonel Reb was a throwback to the Old South.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Well, finally, this hour, an update to a story we brought you last week. The University of Mississippi has retired its longtime mascot. That was back in 2003. But choosing a new mascot hasn't been easy. At long last, after multiple campaigns and campus votes, Ole Miss has a new face - the Rebel Black Bear.

As Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Sandra Knispel reports, not everyone is happy with the choice.

SANDRA KNISPEL: The old mascot, Colonel Reb, a white-haired gentleman of the Old South that some claim looked like a southern plantation owner, had been banned from the sidelines because of racial sensitivities. Now, Ole Miss students, employees and alumni voted for the Rebel Black Bear, one of three choices. But the decision hasn't gone over well.

Yesterday, several thousand people were on campus waiting for an appearance by former President Bill Clinton in an unrelated event. On stage, former Oxford mayor Richard Howorth just couldn't resist testing the crowd's reaction to the brand-new mascot.

Mr. RICHARD HOWORTH: I just want to try this out and see how this feels for everybody. I want to say I'm proud to be a member of the community of the Black Bears.

(Soundbite of booing)

KNISPEL: To many, their first choice was not an option keeping Colonel Reb. Law student Caroline Castigliola(ph) didn't even bother to vote.

Ms. CAROLINE CASTIGLIOLA: I don't know that we need to replace the mascot. I don't think there's anything out there that I agreed with or thought would be representative of our school.

KNISPEL: But political science major Cardell Wright(ph), who is African-American, says while Colonel Reb did not offend him personally, it was time for change.

Mr. CARDELL WRIGHT: It will actually help and attract more African-American students because I have had previous conversations with senior high school students, and I try to get them to come to Ole Miss, but they were kind of scared because of previous racism that has occurred here on the campus.

KNISPEL: In 1962, riots broke out after the first African-American student, James Meredith, enrolled at the university. Today, the Confederate flag no longer flies in the football stadium, and last year, the university chancellor told the marching band to stop playing "Dixie" because many students would chant the South will rise again at the song's conclusion.

The new Rebel Black Bear mascot won't make his debut until next year.

For NPR News, I'm Sandra Knispel in Oxford, Mississippi.

(Soundbite of music)

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