Colonel Reb is the former mascot of Ole Miss Rebels, the collegiate athletic teams of the University of Mississippi ("Ole Miss"). Designed in the 1930s, the figure served as the teams' official or near-official mascot from 1979 until 2003. He was replaced in 2010 with a new on-field mascot, the Rebel Black Bear.
While University of Mississippi historian David Sansing has stated that "Blind Jim [Ivy] may have been the model for Colonel Rebel." This conclusion is not supported by other historical research. Accordingly, William F. Winter Professor of History, Charles Eagles, contends in his book "The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss" that this is clearly not the case. Sansing cites "the late Frank Everett" as the sole basis for this conclusion.
Ivy was very much a part of the Ole Miss scene in 1936 when the editor of the school newspaper proposed a contest to produce a new nickname for Ole Miss teams, then known as The Flood. "The Rebels" was the choice of 18 out of 21 sports writers. Rebels also won the contest sponsored by the Mississippian, with Ole Massas—a term used by slaves to refer to their masters—finishing a close second, and the university's sports teams have since been known as the Rebels. Two years later, Colonel Rebel appeared for the first time as an illustration in the university yearbook. This illustration was perhaps drawn by the art editor for the yearbook that year, Billy Hix. Hix often drew his depictions of the Colonel as a planter in an antebellum plantation setting. It is also possible that Colonel Rebel was originally created by the Rebel Club a student group founded in 1937 shortly after the University had adopted the "Rebels" name and was responsible for the publication of The Rebel magazine which featured an image of the Colonel on its masthead that is identical to the one appearing on the 1937 Ole Miss yearbook. Others may have also had a hand in revising and modifying the image of Colonel Rebel in those early years, such as campus bookstore owner Carl Coers and famous New Orleans cartoonist John Churchill Chase.
In 1940, Ole Miss students began voting for "Colonel Reb" as the highest honorary position for campus males. He had previously been called "The Mardi Gras King" but this name was changed by the Associated Student Body's Executive Council in the fall of 1939. This was in addition to the female equivalent of "Miss Ole Miss" which had been bestowed on campus females for over a decade. These two positions are still voted on every fall by the student population, the winners nearly always being members of historically white fraternities and sororities. Several distinguished Ole Miss alumni have been elected to one of these two positions, including recently retired Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat. In 1975, former National Football League standout Ben Williams became the first black student to be elected "Colonel Reb." "Gentle Ben", as he has been lovingly known by many in the Ole Miss community, was also the first black football player at Ole Miss. In 1989, star Ole Miss women's basketball player Kimsey O'Neal became the first black student to gain the title "Miss Ole Miss." In 2013, the Associated Student Body of the University officially changed the name of this honorary position from "Colonel Reb" to "Mr. Ole Miss."
Joining a national trend at many colleges and universities, the university adopted a costumed mascot filled by a trained male cheerleader in the form of the longtime Ole Miss mascot and known as "Johnny Rebel." Colonel Reb as first known thus advanced from his 40 year paper history to a living caricature on the field in 1979. However, as Ole Miss school yearbooks and game programs from 1981 onward show, a human cheerleader was retained wearing an elaborately-lined coat as well as sash and dress pants and the string-tie often associated with planters from antebellum days. His dress later changed into a more tuxedo-like outfit. This figure, according to Ole Miss annuals and programs from the era, was known as "Colonel Rebel" for some years before being known simply as "mike man" and finally disappearing from the sidelines altogether in the early 1990s.
In 2003, the administration removed Colonel Reb from the sidelines at Ole Miss athletic events as the on-the-field mascot, though he was allowed at tailgating and other unofficial university functions. A contest was held in which fans were invited to design a replacement. The athletic department chose two finalists, Rebel Bruiser and Rowdy Rebel, and invited fans to vote on their favorite. The limited fan response as well as ridicule from fans of rival schools prompted the administration to cancel the poll. The University adopted a new mascot, a black bear named Rebel, in 2010. However, Colonel Reb remains very much alive in the public consciousness. The Colonel Reb Foundation is a group founded to preserve the Colonel Reb image and sponsors the unofficial appearances of the mascot in The Grove on game day. He was featured in "Colonel Reb Is Crying", a song produced by Memphis, Tennessee sports talk radio host Chris Vernon, about the Rebels' on-field woes in 2006.
In 2010 Ole Miss students voted to choose a new mascot for the school. Once the desire for a new mascot was confirmed, a website was established by the committee to help ensure transparency throughout the entire process. Based on its support throughout the process, including the final poll, the committee selected the Rebel Black Bear as the new on-field mascot. The University reclassified the Colonel Reb trademark as historical and still retains ownership of the trademark.