Not so long ago, Chancellor Williams was asked if he had any qualms because football and two Miss Americas had brought the school such widespread publicity when, after all, a university was a place of learning and should win its fame for that. "Not at all," he said. "I don't feel that such honors have any affect on the kind of education we offer. Everyone here is pleased at receiving this kind of attention, and when they are pleased I am too. It makes them proud of the university, and I think that's a good thing."
One thing the university has no reason to be proud about is the fact that it is all white. However, segregation is simply a fact of life at Ole Miss, as indeed it is everywhere else in the state. While a handful of students and professors may privately deplore this, the majority do not. The bitter arguments over integration are the same in Mississippi as they are elsewhere, and all that Mississippi has contributed to the issue is a fearsome inflexibility. Perhaps because of this, one is not aware of racial tensions on Ole Miss's campus. On the only occasion when a Negro applied for admission to the school, his application was forwarded to the state attorney general for a ruling. That official promptly decided the candidate was not qualified, and the matter was dropped then and there.
If one can really rely on history, it seems a safe assumption that even if Ole Miss did not have a football team it still wouldn't be able to bend the unique talents and unbounded enthusiasm of its students toward scholarship alone. In fact, that hope went aglimmering immediately after the university was chartered, back in 1844. Although the four learned gentlemen who made up the first faculty hopefully set up stern entrance requirements, the first 80 students to enroll were the sons of rich planters and were not very well educated in anything except hell raising. They created such an uproar that the first president of the university, an eccentric and moody young man named George Frederick Holmes, fled after only four months and never returned. One faculty member called the students "idle, uncultivated, viciously disposed, and ungovernable." By the end of the session five had been expelled, eight had been suspended, 12 had withdrawn by request and eight were absent on leave, leaving only 47 who actually finished the school term.
There was some improvement when Dr. Frederick A. P. Barnard took over as head of the university in 1856, but before things simmered down to a completely satisfactory disciplinary level the Civil War came and the students marched off in a body to fight. Dr. Barnard, an ardent Unionist, hied himself off North, where he later became president of Columbia University and founded Barnard College.
The war apparently subdued the proclivity for hell raising among Ole Miss students, because it was never again a major problem, though some fairly boisterous undergraduate high jinks continued up to a decade or so ago, and as late as the '20s it was frequently attacked as a "rich man's school." The university grew steadily, attracting little attention, until 1930, when Theodore G. (The Man) Bilbo shocked Mississippi by stacking Mississippi schools with political appointees. As a result of this political skulduggery, Ole Miss and most schools in the state lost their accreditations, and they were not restored until Bilbo left office.
Football, of course, has had a long history at Ole Miss. The first team was organized in 1893, with Dr. A. L. Bondurant, a Latin professor, as coach, and except for 1897, when an epidemic of yellow fever struck the campus, and 1943, when the state board of trustees outlawed the game for the year, Mississippi has always had a team. Until the '20s, the game was played with more enthusiasm than skill.
Mississippi, however, has always had eager football players. The people of Mississippi seem peculiarly suited to the game, and to understand this one need only examine their history. For although Mississippians revere the noble Robert E. Lee and like to boast that Natchez was an oasis of culture and gracious living when most northern cities were still wilderness, Natchez also had the bawdiest, toughest section of any town before or since.
A good example of some early Mississippians who gained renown are the nine brothers Sullivan, sons of a fierce Irishman who settled in a long narrow valley near Mize, Miss. around 1810. Every Mississippian knows about Sullivan's Hollow and uses its name as a synonym for lawlessness. Each Sullivan brother home-steaded a 160-acre plot, and each dug a ditch around his land to keep it separate from his brothers'. At the mouth of the valley stream the brothers erected a gristmill, a lumber mill and a cotton gin. They named this cluster of buildings Bunker Hill, but everybody called it Merry Hell because of the fights that took place there. The toughest members of the clan were Wild Bill and his brother Neace, a tall, straight and muscular giant, who had a beard that fell below his waist. Once a sheriff was foolhardy enough to try to arrest Neace and Bill. They placed his head between the rails of a heavy split-rail fence and left him there to starve.
The Falkner legend
Stories of the Sullivans have become part of Mississippi folklore, and so has the legend of Colonel William C. Falkner. Colonel Falkner, unlike the Sullivans, was not a rude frontiersman. He was a hero of the War Between the States, a railroad builder, author of a best-selling novel, The White Rose of Memphis
, and the grandfather of Nobel Prize Author William Faulkner (who for reasons of his own spells his name with a "u"). Colonel Falkner fought many duels, and he was such a cool man that he once stood still and allowed an assailant to snap a revolver at him twice before he finally took a knife from his pocket and stabbed him to death. When Colonel Falkner made a bitter enemy of an old friend, Col. R. J. Thurmond, by defeating him in a race for the state legislature in 1899, he refused to carry a pistol, saying that he had killed too many men already. As a result of this, Thurmond was able to walk up to Falkner on the street one day and shoot him down. Falkner died after asking, "Dick, what did you do it for?"