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Fine article by Dave McKenna on the notorious George Preston Marshall (Cheap Seats, “Interior Design,” 3/29), but there was one minor mistake in it which unintentionally puts good old Mr. “Long Live Linen” in a more benign light than he deserves.
The lyrics for “Hail to the Redskins,” written in the late ’30s, did not end, as McKenna states, with “Fight for old Dixie.” That wouldn’t have been all that bad at the time, when “Dixie” then roughly corresponded to “Brooklyn” in the public imagination: two exotic locales inhabited by colorful stereotypes for mainstream consumption, always good for a laugh, but not much else. The Borscht Belt/Hollywood appeal of the word was as much in its conjuring up images of mint julep-sucking “colonels” as it was in anything particularly racial. The “darkies” were but part of the act, by no means the whole of it. And anyway, at the time the song was written, the entire NFL was segregated, not just the Redskins.
The truth, though, is that the original lyrics to “Hail to the Redskins” were identical to today’s: “Fight for old D.C.” They weren’t changed to “Dixie” until 1959, as a big wet kiss to the white South at a time when it was under attack for its segregationist ways, just as Marshall himself was being attacked as the owner of the last remaining lily-white team in pro football. Marshall read the papers, with their dispatches of daily skirmishes from battlegrounds such as Montgomery and Little Rock, and by his change of lyrics at this particular moment he announced to the world which side he was on. There was very little subtlety to George Preston Marshall.
The “Dixie” line was quietly changed back to “D.C.” in 1962, the year the Redskins finally integrated, thanks in great part, as McKenna relates, to the pressure of Stewart Udall and the large number of locals who regularly picketed Marshall’s bastion of bigotry in the last few years of his anticipatory rendition of George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door. You have to give the man credit for bringing the team to Washington, but that’s about it. And I’ll bet he even badmouthed the whores if they didn’t give him a discount.