While James Meredith will always be the first African-American to attend The University of Mississippi as as a student, there was another man whose presence and influence on campus long preceded him.
His name was James Ivy, but he was best known by his nickname, “Blind Jim”. For 60 years, he was a peanut vender on campus, an unofficial mascot for the school and self-appointed “Dean of Freshmen.” Blinded as a teenager while working with tar on the Tallahatchie Bridge, Ivy was known for his humorous saying: “I’ve never seen the rebels lose a game.”
Ivy came to Oxford-Lafayette County with his mother in early childhood. His mother, Matilda, was one of the eight ex-slave women who formed the nucleus of the first Colored Baptist Church (now Second Baptist) in 1869. A member and ordained to preach, he would always lead the opening of the worship on Sunday services by singing ‘Let Heaven’s Light Shine on Me.’ In a whirlwind courtship, he married Blind Rosa Sanders and lived across the street from the church he loved.
“Blind Jim” became a part of the University of Mississippi in 1896. It is said that while boiling peanuts at one of the athletic events he loudly cheered ‘Hey! We’re gonna beat ’em.’ After that event, the students honored him as mascot of the football team and also honored him as dean of the freshmen class.
“Blind Jim” Ivy was thought of as being ‘the grace of the Ole Miss campus’ for 69 years before his death in 1955. His funeral services were attended at Second Baptist Church, the church which he supported spiritually and financially.
A tall, distinguished man dressed impeccably in a black suit and white shirt, Ivy used a cane and wore a wide-brimmed hat. It is speculated that the figure of “Colonel Reb” is based on Ivy. “Blind Jim” was known for his loyalty to the football, basketball and baseball teams. His optimism, perseverance and humor endeared him to many people.
For a rare glimpse of “Blind Jim” Ivy at an Ole Miss football game in 1947, click this link.