By Kim Hilsenbeck
Simmering controversy over the role of “Dixie” as the school fight song at Jack C. Hays High bubbled up to the surface again in recent weeks following the deaths of nine members of a prominent black church in South Carolina at the hands of a white male.
As part of the fallout from that event, Hays CISD announced Tuesday “Dixie” will no longer be performed or played at any school sponsored event or over the PA system.
Pride vs. hate
In June, a white man killed nine members of a prominent black church in Charleston and wounded several others; the media later revealed photos of the shooter posing with a Confederate flag.
That event reopened the door to whether or not “Dixie” is an appropriate song for a high school. Hays CISD put out a call for feedback on its ‘Let’s Talk’ mechanism. Spokesperson Tim Savoy said the district also received about 100 emails on the issue.
About the same time, a petition on Change.org called for keeping the fight song. As of Tuesday, more than 1,300 people signed it.
Based on feedback on the Hays Free Press Facebook page following the announcement, it’s clear community members are divided on the issue.
While some say they understand tradition and heritage, they believe remnants of the Deep South and the Civil War, such as the Confederate flag cause pain and hurt, especially for black Americans.
Many others believe those symbols are just that – symbols – and they should not be changed because people are offended.
The Confederate battle flag went by the wayside at Hays High in 2000 as a symbol of the school. According to a Hays CISD statement, “The district recognized the animosity caused by the Confederate flag in 2000 and banned its use as an official symbol of Hays High School.”
Then in 2012, the school board banned the display of the flag on all district property and at all district events.
The statement said, “It is now time to retire “Dixie” and return to the school’s original fight song or select another.”
What was the original fight song?
According to the district, “On Wisconsin” was the fight song for the high school, which was created in 1968 when schools in the region consolidated to form Hays CISD. (See the link below to hear the tune and see the words used by the University of Wisconsin.)
Following internal discussions and debate at the highest levels of the district administration, the decision to ban “Dixie” came out July 28.
“After consideration by the district, including feedback from it’s ‘Let’s Talk’ mechanism, Dixie will no longer be performed or played at any school sponsored event or over the PA system,” the statement said. “It is the decision of senior leadership from both the campus and district to make the change effective immediately.”
However, the Rebel mascot will remain, so long as students of Hays High agree.
Letter from Pierce
Here is the letter sent to parents from David Pierce, principal at Hays High:
July 28, 2015
Dear Hays High School Parents, Students and Staff:
After careful consideration, and in an effort to remove all negative perceptions from our school-community, we are retiring the song “Dixie”. Effective immediately, “Dixie” will no longer be performed or played at any school sponsored event or over our public address system.
Please see the attached statement to learn more about this decision.
The Hays High School administrative team and Hays High School Band staff want to emphasize that our students have done nothing wrong and should be proud of their accomplishments as Hays Rebels.
David R. Pierce, Principal, Hays High School; Tony Leflet, Hays High School Band Director
Below is a statement from Hays CISD officials on the issue of the Hays High School fight song, “Dixie”:
The consolidation of rivals Kyle and Buda High schools was a resounding success because of the early coalescence of pride, spirit, and camaraderie formed around the identity of the brand new Jack C. Hays High School. In 1968, there was no guarantee the experiment of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District would work and odds may even have been against the venture. The achievement of a smooth and lasting merger was and is a celebrated accomplishment. At its root is Hays High School and the deeply held loyalty to the campus by current and former students and supporters. Students selected red, white, and blue as the school colors and the Rebels as the school mascot. “On Wisconsin” was the original fight song.
The Confederate flag and the song “Dixie” were not part of the original Hays High School brand, but they emerged very early and organically developed into school traditions. To the people of the district, the symbols meant school pride. In the eyes of the district, the symbols have never meant any type of support for slavery, racism, or hate. The people of Hays CISD are compassionate, intelligent, and generous. Those who defend the imagery that has been associated with the campus are defending the long-held connection and deference they have for the school. However, and equally as important, the imagery holds different meanings for individuals.
Hays CISD belongs to the people of the district and must respect and reflect the sentiments of all of its students and citizens. Since its inception, the district has grown almost 20-fold – from a little more than 1,000 students to nearly 20,000. Today, there are many in the district who see “Dixie” and the Confederate flag as hurtful and hateful. And, it is the growing, prevailing sentiment across the nation.
The district recognized the animosity caused by the Confederate flag in 2000 and banned its use as an official symbol of Hays High School. It went further in 2012 and banned its display on all district property and at all district events. It is now time to retire “Dixie” and return to the school’s original fight song or select another. “Dixie” will forever remain a part of the history of the campus for its role in uniting two rivals in a shared school spirit. But, because of the song’s potential to divide current and future students, the change must happen. It is the decision of senior leadership from both the campus and district to make the change effective immediately.
The district believes removing the Confederate flag and “Dixie” divorces all symbols of the Confederacy from the campus and returns the school to its original starting-point – a rebel culture free from historically negative associations. Rebels are people who have the courage to fight for their beliefs and the independence and integrity to bring about social change. History is full of rebels including the patriots who rose up against a tyrannical British Crown to form our country, the Texans who fought to form a republic, and a host of other movements and individuals who have challenged the status quo and changed the world. The rebel mascot was created by the first Hays High School students and it has passed from generation to generation. It belongs to the current and future students. Any consideration of making a mascot change would need to originate as an organized student-led initiative.
What the people are saying…
Really proud of our district. I know it wasn’t a popular decision but it shows a great deal of respect and humility to look at something and see that it has the potential to be hurtful to someone other than ourself even if we don’t fully understand.
– Amanda Evans
It’s people like you who are tearing the country apart. You are forcing the issue so you are creating a problem. Never in history of America was American history banned. History is history for good or bad. I’m sick of all these people trying to be so pc that they mess up our country.
– Sean Waddell
Hays Rebel football will never be the same with out “DIXIE “. The Hays school district stinks
– Daniel Reyna
Everyone saying it’s about tradition and history, I would ask whose history? Whose tradition? Are we ignoring the fact that black people exist? For them, that tradition and history is one thing: slavery. Like it or not, THAT is THEIR history. So when you celebrate your history and tradition you are saying they don’t exist or that they need to celebrate that part of their history. Both are pretty lousy.
– Danielle Adams
John Coffee Hays fought Comanches.If some Native Americans find Jack Hays offensive, shouldn’t we remove his statue in San Marcos and rename our county? If some people get their panties in a wad over southern heritage, I think they should change their drawers.
– Clint Younts
Can’t play Dixie, but those kids will listen to hip hop with the n word, demeaning to women and every cuss word known to man. Hmmm
– Chris Halenza
There is Always going to be something in our history that offends someone. The Rebel Flag means different things to each of us. We can’t keep removing parts of our history every time someone feels they are being labled. If we did there would be no History.
So sad to see a Tradition gone.
– Kay Cox Burkhart
What is the “Let’s Talk” mechanism? My daughter will be a senior this year and has been a student here since kinder. I have never once received notification about this “mechanism” that the district offers to combat decisions made by outsiders that effect MY community.
– Tracy Janke Reed
Funny how the majority of people do not want it to be banned and yet they did it anyway. The opinion of the people truly does not matter anymore and we are all at the mercy of special interest groups. I thought this was America. I guess not.
– Lily Elmore
So wrong. When will the madness stop! We will end up living in a blank world with no music, no art, no freedom of anything, no fun, nothing. Stark and white. Hate this. I saddens me to know that Mr. Pierce and other Hays admin have no backbone to see how stupid this decision is.
– Angela Miller Swann