Ole Miss has a lot to brag about. The flagship university for the state of Mississippi, educational hub of the Cultural Mecca of the South, home to one of the highest ranking teams in the SEC, and perched on one of the prettiest patches of ground east of the Mississippi, there’s plenty above-board action to keep a body entertained for quite some time. As with all universities, however, Ole Miss has a few quirks and hidden gems waiting for those who are willing to dig a bit deeper; here are some of our favorites:
- The Lyceum is more than just an admin buildingThe Lyceum is the only one of the five original university buildings to remain standing (photo courtesy of JR Gordon)
It’s also been a hospital, a library, and the site of one of the most violent university protests in history. Built in 1848, the Lyceum once served as an all-in-one to the university’s original eighty students, housing lecture halls, faculty offices, a geological museum, and the library. When the university shut down during the Civil War, the building was repurposed as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops, and the 250 soldiers that met their end there are buried in a cemetery on university grounds. The Lyceum saw two more casualties in 1962 when James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in the university. Look closely at the columns that line the facade, and can still see the scarred markings left by errant bullets during the riots that followed.
- They were almost the Admiral AkbarsStar Wars’ Admiral Akbar was among the top contenders for the new Ole Miss mascot, though Lucas Films politely declined the invitation: “The last time we checked in with Admiral Ackbar he was leading the Rebel Alliance Fleet on a critical mission so it will be difficult for him to show up for the games”
Or the Horses. Or the Lions. While the overt racial implications of the original Ole Miss mascot, Colonel Reb, may have long since faded, few can argue the mascot’s inherent symbolism, and in 2003, the heavily-lidded, cane-wielding, enviably-mustachioed Colonel Reb was forced into early retirement. In a show of solidarity for the dear, deposed Reb, the student body obstinately refused to entertain the idea of any other mascot for seven years. In 2010 the university once again attempted to name a new mascot, and a mixed bag of candidates—River Boat Pilot, Land Shark (complete with Jaws theme song and wiggly hand-fin), Horse, Lion, the enigmatic Ole Miss Hot Toddy, and, yes, Star Wars’ General Akbar—all garnered support. Emerging at the top of the polls was an anthropomorphic black bear named, not surprisingly, Rebel.
- It was home to the South’s first female professorOne of Sarah Isom’s students, Stark Young, reported that she warned her students that they would “never amount to anything if all they did was marry and become housewives.”
Sarah McGehee Isom was a fiery, loquacious redhead with a penchant for oratory and a swagger for the stage. Fortunately, the University of Mississippi was wise enough to see her value and in 1885 made her the Chair of Elocution—the first female staff member in a co-ed institution of higher learning in the South. No blushing belle, Miss Isom was the stuff of legends, patently ignoring female students that she believed were only using school as husband hunting grounds and relaxing by driving to the country to smoke cigars and meditate. The university’s Center for Women and Gender Studies is named in her honor.
- Before students donned seersucker and bowties, their suits were gray Only four students reported for classes in the fall of 1861; all others had enlisted in the Confederate army
On May 4, 1861, four months after Mississippi seceded from the Union, a band of 135 students—almost the entire student body—lined up in front of the Lyceum, reporting to join the ranks of the Confederate army as 11th Mississippi Infantry, the so-called University Grays. Though they were distinguished from many of their compatriots by both education and status, the University Grays fought valiantly in a number of infamously bloody battles, including Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Grays made their way further into Union lines than any other company, though they paid dearly for their commitment; the company suffered 100% casualty.
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