Noted University of Mississippi historian Dr. David G. Sansing has long pointed out that the model for the original Colonel Rebel emblem may have been a black man.
“Blind Jim” Ivy was a campus fixture until his death in 1955. Ivy became an integral part of the University of Mississippi in 1896. Born in 1870 as the son of African slave Matilda Ivy, he moved from Alabama to Mississippi in 1890. He was blinded in his early teens when coal tar paint got into his eyes while painting the Tallahatchie River bridge. He became a peanut vendor in Oxford and was considered the university’s “Dean of Freshmen” and the “mascot” for many years.
Ivy attended most Ole Miss athletic events and was fond of saying, “I’ve never seen Ole Miss lose.” He was very much a part of the Ole Miss scene in 1936 when the editor of the school newspaper proposed a contest to produce a new nickname for Ole Miss teams, then known as the Flood. Rebels was the choice of 18 out of 21 sports writers and the university’s sports teams have forever been known as the Rebels. Two years later, Colonel Rebel appeared for the first time as an illustration in the university yearbook, “The Ole Miss.”
According to Sansing, “If you look at the photo of “Blind Jim” in the three-piece suit, with the hat, there’s a striking resemblance. The original Colonel Rebel emblem is a spitting image of “Blind Jim” Ivy, except for white skin.”
Colonel Reb on Campus
Colonel Reb soon became an honor all over campus. In the 1940s the tradition of voting for Colonel Reb and Miss Ole Miss were the highest honors students could bestow on their fellow attendees. Still elected every fall by the student population, many notables of the history of Ole Miss have earned this honor including football stars Kayo Dottley, Archie Manning and Ben Williams, the first black football player at Ole Miss. (Chucky Mullins was elected Colonel Reb in 1990)
It was also during this time that one student each year at Ole Miss dressed in a Confederate uniform and paraded down the sidelines exhorting the Rebel faithful to cheer for their winning team. Wielding just a microphone and filled with hoopla, the student helped lead the Ole Miss football team to three national championships (1959, 1960 and 1962) and six Southeastern Conference titles (1947, 1954, 1955, 1960, 1962, and 1963).
Seeking to professionalize the sideline appearance, the student was exchanged for a trained cheerleader mascot in the form of the original 1937 emblem that was a campus staple on merchandise. Colonel Reb finally graduated from his 40-year paper history to a living caricature on the field in 1979, and remained there until chancellor Robert Khayat and athletics director Pete Boone removed him in 2003.