On Thursday, December 4, the head of the Arkansas’ band, Dr. Richard Worthington, announced that the band would quit playing Dixie. According to him, his decision was prompted by the action of the Student Senate. He said, “I will abide by the Student Senate’s decision....if the students do not want the band to play the song, the band will not do so.”
The student senate’s Dixie resolution came at a dicey time. A big football game with the Texas Longhorns was coming, and both teams were undefeated. Some commentators said the game, to be played in Fayetteville, was for the national championship. It was scheduled to be televised nationally, and rumors were floating that President Richard Nixon would be attending.
|Northwest Arkansas Times, December 4, 1969|
Another group was concerned with the Vietnam war. The group included students, faculty members, and locals. One of the main leaders of the anti-Vietnam group was a 1964 graduate of Fayetteville High School and Vietnam veteran, Don Donner. Another was UA physics professor, Art Hobson. The group’s plan for a "pro-peace" protest went into full gear when Nixon announced he would attend the game.
With the prominence of the game and guests, UA administrators feared that the protesters would interfere the game and detract from the university’s day of national prominence. The fears were heightened by the disruption of a university pep rally by some members of BAD. Also, some anti-Dixie students vowed to storm the field during the game if Dixie were played.
|Northwest Arkansas Times, Nov. 26, 1969|
Some people complained that the student senate passed the anti-Dixie resolution because it was intimidated by BAD. I disagree. I believe that the senate members were effectively lobbied by BAD and were persuaded by these small group conversations with BAD members that voting for the resolution was in the best interest of students.
(This issue and a resolution supporting the Vietnam Moratorium -- which came a couple of weeks earlier -- are the only student senate actions about which I remember being lobbied while a student senator. As I recall. the pro-moratorium resolution also passed.)
In truth, I think that most of us viewed the anti-Dixie resolution as a symbolic action that would express an opinion, but not change anything. Thus, it was seen as a low stakes vote on a resolution that generated intensity among one group of students, but not much interest among most them.
I voted for it for three reason. First, I was convinced by the sincerity of and arguments against Dixie by the BAD students. Second, I could understand why the descendants of slaves viewed the song as, at best, insensitive, and, at worst, given the context of a football team that still had an all-white team on the field, as racist. Third, I never much liked Dixie nor understood what it had to do with the University of Arkansas. It certainly had no relevance for me with roots in the Ozark mountains.
The senate vote elicited some negative feedback, including letters to the editor and letters to university. I remember the student senate got an angry letter from John Norman Warnock, a long-time segregationist who had been a big deal when a student at the University of Arkansas (according to his biography). (See Warnock -- A Retrospective by R. W. Scott, Camark Press, Camden, Arkansas, 1987)
As the game approached, a strange shooting occurred on Friday night before the game, raising the concern of some black students for their safety. Darryl Brown -- who had been a football team walk-on in 1964 -- was shot in the leg below the knee on a street at the edge of campus. He had little information he could provide police about the shooting. A spokesperson for BAD asked that the National Guard be sent to campus to protect black students.
|Northwest Arkansas Times, Dec. 5, 1969|
President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Congressmen George Bush and John Paul Hammerschmidt, Arkansas Senators Fulbright and McClelland and many other dignitaries watched an exciting game won in the final minutes on a daring fourth down pass by the Texas team.
The game inspired a book, Horns, Hogs and Nixon Coming: Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie’s Last Stand by Terry Frei. He called the game “Dixie’s last stand” because it was the last game played by all-white major football teams. Also, a documentary, 1969 The Game of the Century, Texas Longhorns, was released in 2010. Another documentary, The Big Shootout, is now being finalized (see http://bigshootout.com/the-big-shootout/ ).
A history of the University of Arkansas band describes the decision to quite playing Dixie as follows:
After a series of student-senate votes, a campus-wide referendum, and numerous confrontations of which a few turned violent, Dr. Worthington discontinued the band’s planning the song just prior to the Texas-Arkansas Great Shootout of 1969.
(The University of Arkansas Razorback Band: A History, 1874-2004, by T.T. Tyler Thompson)In fact, a student referendum was held in the spring on whether the UA band should play Dixie. Students voted overwhelmingly (2010 for and 944 against) to resume playing Dixie.
The real explanation of what happened in December 1962 is likely that Worthington (with the assent of the UA leaders) used the student senate resolution to justify an action had he had wanted to take for some time: quit playing Dixie. The student senate resolution provide good cover for him to act, and likely, his action defused the potential for disruption of the biggest football game in Arkansas’ history and was an important step in making minority students feel welcome at the University of Arkansas. After the pro-Dixie resolution passed, Worthington and his successors refused to start playing Dixie again.
<revised May 29, 2011>