By JACK ELLIOTT JR.
JACKSON — Mississippians of a certain age will remember the state song from elementary and junior high school sing-a-longs.
The chorus is, “Go Mississippi, keep rolling along. Go Mississippi, you cannot go wrong. Go Mississippi we’re singing your song. M-I-S S-I-S S-I-P-P-I.” It echoed in the halls of predominantly white schools in the 1960s.
The melody of the current “Go Mississippi” was the 1959 campaign tune of Gov. Ross Barnett, who tried to block James Meredith’s admission as the first black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962. His campaign song, “Roll with Ross,” declared, “He’s for segregation 100 percent. He’s not a mod-rate like some other gent.”
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. They’re being asked to do so again this year, with two bills filed by Sen. Robert Jackson, a Democrat from Marks. One proposes replacing “Go Mississippi” with “My Home Mississippi.” Another would create two state songs — “Go Mississippi” and “My Home Mississippi.”
Jackson has said having two state songs wouldn’t be unusual. He said “My Home Mississippi” has “a little bit more heart and meaning.”
The lyrics for “My Home Mississippi” 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:
“When my final bell comes ringing — be it morning, noon or night;
“When He raps upon my portal, and my spirit takes its flight;
“As they lay me in your bosom, ev’ry thing will be all right;
“You’ve been so good to me.
“Warm and friendly, Mississippi,
“One and only, Mississippi,
“I do love you, Mississippi,
“My home you’ll always be.”
In 1994, country singer Charley Pride performed his “Roll on Mississippi” for the state Senate, to no avail.
“It is a beautiful love song. I would be greatly honored if the state song would be changed to ‘Roll On Mississippi.’ I feel it typifies Mississippi to the fullest,” Pride said at the time.
In 2000, then-state Sen. (and now U.S. Rep.) Alan Nunnelee supported changing the state song to “Mississippi Song,” by Jim Weatherly. There was a proposal that year for a state ballad, a Paul Roberston and Paul Ott composition called “Mississippi, The Promised Land.”
Nunnelee in 2000 called “Go Mississippi” outdated and a song that had “served its purpose but is not now representative of the quickening pace of the development of the State of Mississippi.”
“We have a great music heritage and we should be able to do a better job of picking a song,” Nunnelee said.
Alabama’s state song, aptly entitled “Alabama,” was adopted in 1931.
Tennessee couldn’t settle on one song, so it has five — the oldest (1926) “My Homeland, Tennessee” and the most recent (1996) “The Pride of Tennessee.” ‘’Rocky Top,” approved in 1982, is the most famous.
Louisiana has two. “Give Me Louisiana” was adopted in 1970, and “You Are My Sunshine,” in 1977. The state’s march song, “Louisiana My Home Sweet Home,” came along in 1952.
Arkansas has an anthem, “Arkansas;” a historical song “The Arkansas Traveler;” and two other official songs, “Oh, Arkansas” and “Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me).”
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: “Not unless it gets ... where there’s nothing left to do.”