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‘Go, Mississippi’: State Could Ditch Song with Racist Roots

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is on the verge of scuttling a state song with racist roots, two years after it retired a Confederate-themed state flag.

The current song, “Go, Mississippi,” takes its tune from a 1959 campaign jingle of Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett. “Roll With Ross” included the lyrics, “For segregation, 100%. He’s not a moderate, like some of the gents.”

Barnett unsuccessfully resisted integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962, and legislators that year adopted a state song setting new words to his campaign ditty: “Go, Mississippi, keep rolling along. Go, Mississippi, you cannot go wrong.”

Some legislators have quietly sought a new song in recent years, saying the Barnett connection is an embarrassing relic of the bad old days.

The effort gained momentum when Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn opened this year’s legislative session by showing a video of “One Mississippi,” composed by country music singer and songwriter Steve Azar for the state’s 2017 bicentennial celebration.

File – This Jan. 4, 2022, photo shows country music singer and songwriter Steve Azar at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. Mississippi legislators passed a bill March 31, 2022, to designate Azar’s “One Mississippi” as the new state song and to create a study committee to consider additional state songs in the future. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo, File)

Azar is a Mississippi native. His lyrics play on the hide-and-seek counting game (One Mississippi … two Mississippi … three Mississippi …) and incorporate familiar images: magnolia trees, fried catfish, hurricanes, kudzu.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate on Thursday passed the final version of a bill to replace the Barnett-linked song with “One Mississippi.” The bill also would create a committee to recommend that legislators designate additional state songs later. Tennessee is among states with multiple official songs.

Asked for his opinion on the measure, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves told The Associated Press on Friday that he’s not well-versed in the song proposal because he’s been focused on other issues, including teacher pay raises and a tax cut.

Reeves also said he doesn’t know the state song and can’t recall whether he was supposed to learn it in school.

“I was focused on shooting basketballs,” Reeves deadpanned.

Two teenagers working as state Senate pages said Mississippi needs to change its song.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to take the tune of a racist song and make it for everybody,” said Karmen Owens, a 15-year-old freshman at North Pike High School in McComb.

CORRECTS KARMEN OWENS’ POSITION TO RIGHT, INSTEAD OF LEFT Karmen Owens, of McComb, Miss., right, and Raniyah Younger, of Jackson, Miss., share a laugh Friday, April 1, 2022, in the Mississippi Capitol, where they were working as state Senate pages. Owens, 15, and Younger, 17, both said Mississippi should change its state song that was adopted in 1962 using the tune of a 1959 campaign song for segregationist Gov. Ross Barnett. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Raniyah Younger, a 17-year-old junior at Jackson’s Callaway High, said a new state song should reflect different cultures and “equality of all races and all colors and all sexualities, of course.”

Democratic Sen. Hillman Frazier of Jackson worked for years to retire the Mississippi state flag, the last in the nation to feature the Confederate battle emblem. Frazier said Mississippi should not have a song affiliated with a segregationist governor, but he wants a committee to examine Mississippi’s deep musical heritage and come up with a new song.

“Most people don’t know the state song. They never sing it,” Frazier said Thursday. “So, six months trying to get it right wouldn’t hurt a thing.”

Republican Sen. Nicole Boyd of Oxford said it’s best to ditch the old song now.

Mississippi state Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, is shown Friday, April 1, 2022, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss. Frazier wants a committee to study various genres of music and suggest a new state song for Mississippi. The Legislature has passed a bill that would retire “Go, Mississippi,” the state song that has been used since 1962. It uses the tune of a 1959 campaign song by Ross Barnett, who was elected governor that year by promising to maintain racial segregation. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi state Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, is shown Friday, April 1, 2022, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss. She supports a bill that would retire “Go, Mississippi,” the state song that has been used since 1962. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

“It’s one more thing that doesn’t portray Mississippi in its best light,” Boyd said. “We need things that represent the state and really highlight the amazing people we have.”

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By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS Associated Press

This story has been corrected to show that Karmen Owens is a student at North Pike High School in McComb.

Mississippi state Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, is shown Friday, April 1, 2022, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss. Frazier wants a committee to study various genres of music and suggest a new state song for Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi state Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, is shown Friday, April 1, 2022, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss. She supports a bill that would retire “Go, Mississippi,” the state song that has been used since 1962. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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