By JACK ELLIOTT JR.
JACKSON â Mississippians of a certain age will remember the state song from elementary and junior high school sing-a-longs.
The chorus is, âGo Mississippi, keep rolling along. Go Mississippi, you cannot go wrong. Go Mississippi weâre singing your song. M-I-S S-I-S S-I-P-P-I.â It echoed in the halls of predominantly white schools in the 1960s.
The melody of the current âGo Mississippiâ was the 1959 campaign tune of Gov. Ross Barnett, who tried to block James Meredithâs admission as the first black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962. His campaign song, âRoll with Ross,â declared, âHeâs for segregation 100 percent. Heâs not a mod-rate like some other gent.â
The all-white Legislature adopted the tune as the state song in 1962, with tamer lyrics.
Mississippi has made significant social and political changes since then, but the old Barnett tune is still an official symbol.
Off and on, and with little enthusiasm, lawmakers have considered new state songs. Theyâre being asked to do so again this year, with two bills filed by Sen. Robert Jackson, a Democrat from Marks. One proposes replacing âGo Mississippiâ with âMy Home Mississippi.â Another would create two state songs â âGo Mississippiâ and âMy Home Mississippi.â
Jackson has said having two state songs wouldnât be unusual. He said âMy Home Mississippiâ has âa little bit more heart and meaning.â
The lyrics for âMy Home Mississippiâ were written by former state Sen. Delma Furniss, D-Rena Lara. In 2003, while still in the Senate, Furniss filed a bill to have his lyrics, set to the music of a 19th Century American folk ballad, named the state song. Among the lyrics:
âWhen my final bell comes ringing â be it morning, noon or night;
âWhen He raps upon my portal, and my spirit takes its flight;
âAs they lay me in your bosom, evâry thing will be all right;
âYouâve been so good to me.
âWarm and friendly, Mississippi,
âOne and only, Mississippi,
âI do love you, Mississippi,
âMy home youâll always be.â
In 1994, country singer Charley Pride performed his âRoll on Mississippiâ for the state Senate, to no avail.
âIt is a beautiful love song. I would be greatly honored if the state song would be changed to âRoll On Mississippi.â I feel it typifies Mississippi to the fullest,â Pride said at the time.
In 2000, then-state Sen. (and now U.S. Rep.) Alan Nunnelee supported changing the state song to âMississippi Song,â by Jim Weatherly. There was a proposal that year for a state ballad, a Paul Roberston and Paul Ott composition called âMississippi, The Promised Land.â
Nunnelee in 2000 called âGo Mississippiâ outdated and a song that had âserved its purpose but is not now representative of the quickening pace of the development of the State of Mississippi.â
âWe have a great music heritage and we should be able to do a better job of picking a song,â Nunnelee said.
Alabamaâs state song, aptly entitled âAlabama,â was adopted in 1931.
Tennessee couldnât settle on one song, so it has five â the oldest (1926) âMy Homeland, Tennesseeâ and the most recent (1996) âThe Pride of Tennessee.â ââRocky Top,â approved in 1982, is the most famous.
Louisiana has two. âGive Me Louisianaâ was adopted in 1970, and âYou Are My Sunshine,â in 1977. The stateâs march song, âLouisiana My Home Sweet Home,â came along in 1952.
Arkansas has an anthem, âArkansas;â a historical song âThe Arkansas Traveler;â and two other official songs, âOh, Arkansasâ and âArkansas (You Run Deep In Me).â
When discussions on a new Mississippi song were at their height in 2003, House Speaker Tim Ford was asked if legislators would be interested in debating the issue. He replied: âNot unless it gets ... where thereâs nothing left to do.â