1969 Band Protest Against ‘Dixie’ Brings Results for Black Students in Pensacola

“In the fall of 1969, the Escambia School Board chose Pensacola High School to host a football exhibition featuring the Pensacola Naval Air Station squad. The school band planned to play ‘Dixie’ as part of its ‘Fiesta of Flags’ halftime show, but several blacks who belonged to the ensemble objected to the song. The band director gave them an ultimatum — play the tune of fail the music course.

The students took their dilemma to [Rev. H. K.] Matthews, who also despised ‘Dixie’ because he believed it romanticized the antebellum plantation culture. School officials refused to compromise with the dissenters or meet with Matthews, so he decided that the black students who participated in the halftime festivities should make their sentiments clear. When the band began to play ‘Dixie’ near the end of the halftime routine, most of the group’s black students lowered their instruments and walked off the football field. Many white band members kept playing, unaware that the students had abandoned their marching formation, while some stopped in astonishment as their classmates left the group.

Blacks in the crowd cheered the protest, except for a few parents who shouted at Matthews angrily. Stunned silence characterized the response of white crowd members. In the days that followed the episode, PHS reversed their policy on ‘Dixie,’ removed it from the band’s song list and did not fail any blacks as punishment for their actions.”

So What?!: In case you haven’t noticed, the push to remove memorials that commemorate the ugly memories of the antebellum South continues to this day.

Source: Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida 1960-1980 By J. Michael Butler The University of North Carolina Press, 2016 p. 75

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