Weather in February can be unpredictable for residents of north Texas. Some years you can get a sunburn, while other years you're shoveling snow and waiting for the electricity to return after an ice storm.
February 1970 was cold. On a day when most people in Irving, Texas, were trying to stay warm, Eldon Janzen was at the top of a stepladder painting the front of his newly purchased house on Beacon Hill Drive where he lived with wife Nel, daughter Jana, and son Scott.
Armed with paint can and brush, Janzen was trying to finish his project when the front door opened. Nel was making her way across the lawn with phone in hand to inform him that someone was calling from the Arkansas Gazette.
Janzen was about to field his first question from the media as the new director of bands for the University of Arkansas: "Mr. Janzen, I'm calling to ask what you're planning to do about 'Dixie.'"
His first thought was that Dixie must be a band member. Unfortunately, as he would eventually discover, that was not the case. The next few years would have been much easier for the Janzen family if Dixie had been a person.
"I don't quite understand the problem, but I will get back with you when I'm in Fayetteville," was Eldon Janzen's final words to the Gazette reporter. It is possible that he eventually forgot about the conversation with the Arkansas Gazette reporter. If he had, Janzen was reminded immediately after his arrival in Fayetteville. It seemed that Dixie had become an important issue to the entire state of Arkansas.
The pregame ceremonies at all Razorback home football games traditionally ended with the playing of "Dixie." The song would inspire an enthusiastic response from the home crowd, perhaps even greater than for Arkansas Fight, the university's official athletics fight song.
While Janzen's focus was on preparing the Razorback Band for its first performance, he knew he would eventually be forced to confront the Dixie issue. He also knew that a decision would be expected that, once made, would be impossible to reverse. He knew that he must not show hesitation nor any type of ambiguity.
"I didn't even have to think about it," he said. "I felt that it would present a danger to the students in the band, and I saw no reason to subject them to any possibility of bodily harm. I didn't really have to think about it very seriously. ... I knew that, if the band were to resume the playing of Dixie, it would result in political upheaval. It would obviously be the wrong thing to do."
As soon as Janzen arrived on campus, his telephone began to ring and letters started pouring in. The steady influx of questions prompted him to write David Mullins, the president of the university. He expressed two points: his belief that the Arkansas Band should not be used as a political instrument, and his concern for the safety of his students.
President Mullins responded by thanking Janzen and went so far as to indicate that he agreed with Janzen's decision, but that was all. The letter was encouraging, but Mullins made it obvious that he would provide no help or statement of support. Janzen's decision would be solely his own.
The debate over Dixie eventually led to a conversation between Janzen and Arkansas' legendary football coach Frank Broyles. Known as a Southern gentleman, Broyles was not hesitant to request that Janzen reconsider his decision and resume the tradition of playing Dixie. Broyles' interest in continuing the tradition stemmed purely from the knowledge that the tune created a rowdy reaction from the home crowd.
In Janzen's words: "Frank Broyles was a god-like figure on campus and he wanted the band to continue playing Dixie. He was interested in crowd support, and it really roused the crowd up. I had to tell him right off that I didn't have any plans to use that song again."
Janzen knew that he would need help from another source, and it would need to be someone who not only supported his decision but who was also in a position to encourage this Deep South audience to go along with it. He began by listening to recordings of newly published music for marching bands distributed each year by the music publishing companies.
Eventually, he ran across a piece called "Swing March," and it fit.
"My neighbor at that time was Wally Engels, the announcer for all home Razorback football games," Janzen said. "I asked him if he would encourage the audience to chant 'Go Hogs Go' during the drum cadence at the end of Swing March. Wally agreed, and it worked well. Wally continued to encourage people to get involved, it finally caught on, and it remains a tradition today.
"Unfortunately, the uproar over not playing Dixie never really died down with the older folks."
There were many letters of protest. Some were eloquently written, others less than civil, still others insulting and threatening. Janzen has a file folder filled with letters insisting that the band resume playing Dixie at football games.
University students were given the opportunity to determine Dixie's fate. The first vote supported the playing of Dixie. A second vote was arranged weeks later that reversed, by a very narrow margin, the feelings of the student body.
The controversy had been increasing since the year before Janzen's arrival and was now reaching a boiling point. On the evening prior to the 1969 national championship game between Arkansas and the University of Texas, the band marched to the Chi Omega Greek Theater for the traditional pre-game pep rally. Upon their arrival, the campus group Black Americans for Democracy was occupying the seating area reserved for the band to stage a peaceful protest against the playing of Dixie.
A protest was also planned during Arkansas' game against Texas the following day if the band played Dixie, something university officials desperately wanted to avoid since President Nixon would be in attendance.
Avoiding the possibility of conflict, the drum majors marched the band to the Wilson Sharp House which housed the Arkansas football team. Once there, an impromptu pep rally was staged for members of the football team who were present.
After the performance, band members were making their way back up the hill to the band hall when one band member noticed that the African American members of the band were no longer with them. Upon returning to the band hall, they found that their African American colleagues, rather than marching to Wilson Sharp House, had returned to the band hall to wait for their fellow band students to return.
Nathaniel Thomas, Tyler Thompson, and Richard Wheeler were among the band students who participated in the conversation that followed between Black and white band members. When interviewed, Wheeler described this meeting as being a "heart-to-heart and honest conversation between white and Black band members."
Wheeler adds, "We [the white student band members] didn't fully understand how the playing of Dixie actually impacted the Black students of the band. We sat in the band hall that night for a couple of hours talking about it. In the end, the white band students realized the depth of resentment the Black band students had for Dixie.
"I remember the statement being made, 'You're our friends--if Dixie hurts you, it hurts us, and we are going to be with you on this. We have other fight songs we can play. We don't need to play Dixie."
Almost 50 years after the event, Wheeler remembers that Coach Broyles later requested a meeting with students, including members of the Razorback Band. He recalls Broyles informing the student delegation that he had been approached by African American student-athletes who voiced their feelings and resentment concerning Dixie. He indicated that some of the African American football players also expressed the same feelings. After hearing from the students, Broyles agreed that Dixie should not be played.
The day after the pep-rally incident, the 1969 game between Arkansas and Texas went off without a hitch. Reverend Billy Graham provided the pre-game invocation. Other than the fact that Arkansas lost to Texas 15-14, the event exceeded every expectation held by ABC-TV and the football world.
It was also the last regular season game of the centennial year of NCAA football and the final college game to be broadcast on national television between two Division I football powerhouse teams--neither of which had even one African American player on their roster.
As Janzen started his second year as director for the University of Arkansas Bands, as far as he was concerned, Dixie would never be performed again by the Razorback Band. "But the good ol' boys in Arkansas just wouldn't let it go," he said.
Even with the student vote confirming Janzen's decision, calls and letters kept coming. Many were addressed to the university president. One person that called Janzen every year was the president of a large bank in Little Rock.
"I finally got to the point where I could talk to him without allowing him to upset me," Janzen explained. "He would call and say, 'Well, Professor, is Dixie in your lineup for this year?" And I'd say, "Mr. Bowen, we will not be playing that song this season." Eventually, we were able to converse in a fairly friendly manner and after about 10 years, he finally quit calling."
Still, it seemed Janzen's efforts and those of anyone who had the courage to support him had little effect. "The audience kept wanting and demanding to hear Dixie played at football games," Janzen said. "It wasn't the song itself so much as the idea behind the song and what it represented to other people."
Janzen became proficient at running off those who visited the band at games to cause trouble. There was an incident in which he was approached by an obviously inebriated student, who staggered toward Janzen carrying what appeared to be a water pistol. Pointing it in Janzen's face, the student muttered the words, "I want you to play Dixie!" To which Janzen replied, "I'm sorry, we just don't have that song in our folders."
Obviously dissatisfied with Janzen's comment, the student emptied his water gun directly into Janzen's face from point-blank range. In his drunken stupor, the young man failed to notice that Janzen was at least a foot taller than he. Perhaps he didn't consider until it was too late that emptying a water gun in Janzen's face, even one loaded with straight bourbon, could result in his being lifted completely off the ground and launched into the student section.
There were off-campus incidents as well, mostly performed by pranksters, people that were angry, members of the pep club organization, or individual students. Scott Janzen, who was 5 years old about this time, once lifted his bedroom window and shouted at them from his room. Janzen smiled and added, "Scott probably yelled some specific words that he possibly could have overheard somewhere around the house."
What was likely the most disturbing incident happened when the Janzen family was living in a more remote location of Fayetteville. They were awakened in the middle of the night by a commotion coming from the front yard of their home. Upon opening the front door, Janzen and his family discovered that their midnight visitors had left something that was easily understood: A wooden cross had been placed in the front yard, doused with fuel, and set on fire.
Janzen downplayed that aspect of the incident as the probable result of sophomoric behavior by a few possibly drunk individuals. However, Janzen's concern heightened upon the receipt of a letter in which the writer, angered at the loss of Dixie, included his intent to "kill that loud-mouthed little bastard son of yours."
Janzen knew that Darrell Brown, an African American student, had been shot in the leg at a pep rally the year before, so a letter that threatened to kill his son had to be taken seriously. He presented the letter to the chief of police for the city of Fayetteville and asked if the police chief thought that the letter should be taken seriously. The chief's answer was "Absolutely!" Janzen was not prepared for the chief's next bit of advice.
When prompted for a suggestion or the appropriate course of action to take, the chief patted the right front pocket of his trousers and said, "When I go out campaigning or anywhere that takes me into a large group of people, I always carry my .38 caliber pistol right here in my pocket where I can get to it. And my advice to you is to do the same."
Forty-eight years later, Janzen still recalled the conversation. "That's all the advice he gave me. I thought, 'Boy, there's no help here! Carry a gun? And this is the police chief?"
Janzen returned to campus determined to follow through with his decision regarding Dixie and protecting his students--without a gun.
Benny Davis attended the University of Arkansas from 1975-78; after teaching in Texas public schools as a band director for 32 years, he is retired and living in Rockwall, Texas.