The nation's largest association of African American lawyers has asked Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to drop "Dixie" from the repertoire for the sing-alongs he leads at an annual judicial conference.
The 18,000-lawyer National Bar Association passed a resolution on July 30 at its convention in Philadelphia in which the association expressed "outrage at the conduct of the Chief Justice" and urged "that he refrain from such offensive conduct in the future."
"The song 'Dixie' remains a symbol of slavery and oppression to many Americans," John Crump, executive director of the association, said yesterday. "His conduct is prejudicial to the fair administration of justice."
"For the body politic of the bar association, it is something to really abhor to have a Supreme Court justice leading something like that," Crump said.
Rehnquist declined to comment on the resolution, a Supreme Court spokesman said yesterday.
The chief justice, known for his fondness for songs and singing, was criticized for including "Dixie" in the sing-along at the 4th Circuit Judicial Conference in Hot Springs, Va., in June. The conference site alternates between the Homestead resort in Hot Springs and the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Some African American lawyers did not attend the sing-along because of their feelings about "Dixie," which became a marching song for Civil War Confederate soldiers.
Crump said that the singing of "Dixie" at the 4th Circuit conference was particularly vexing because it is the only federal jurisdiction without an African American on its court of appeals.
"If they follow the words of 'Dixie,' it'll be like this forever," he said. "That's what they're symbolically saying."
Rehnquist regularly attends the annual conference, which gathers federal judges and lawyers from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, and leads the crowd in the after-dinner sing-along.
In addition to "Dixie"--a "black face" minstrel song that begins with, "I wish I was in the land of cotton"--the participants sing such standards as "America the Beautiful," "Anchors Aweigh" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which was written for the Union during the Civil War.
Others who have attended the sing-along defend it as a piece of Americana appropriate for a mostly southern conference. Historians say that it was a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln and that he had it played in the days after Richmond fell in 1865.