Time to Burn Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s Genocidal Blankets

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 7.34.07 AMThe SAE fraternity racist song — and righteous response of Oklahoma University President David Boren — has focused a lot of attention on campus racism.

But as more attention has focused on what a tradition this song — which invokes lynching positively — is, I realized as an Amherst grad I have no business scolding Oklahoma college students when Amherst college students and alumni still celebrate not just Lord Jeffrey Amherst — a key British general — but also his victory over the French and Native Americans, the latter accomplished by genocide.

This is part of Amherst’s fight song:

Lord Jeffrey Amherst was a soldier of the king
And he came from across the sea,
To the Frenchmen and the Indians he didn’t do a thing
In the wilds of this wild country

But for his Royal Majesty he fought with all his might
For he was a soldier brave and true
He conquered all his enemies whenever they came in sight
And he looked around for more when he was through.

This site, from which the image above was taken, shows Amherst affirmatively contemplating providing smallpox infected blankets to “inoculate” the Native Americans in the same breath as he considered hunting them down with dogs.

And yet Amherst students and alumni (including me) have sung this song boisterously not just in private houses, but in public stadia. This song is even more seared into my unconscious than University of Michigan’s “Leaders and Best,” by a good margin.

They should have ditched the Lord Jeff mascot when women were admitted in the 1970s. Instead, for 3 decades, women have been playing sports as the “Lady Jeffs,” which is pretty dumb.

There is finally a real move to ditch Lord Jeffrey, leading — just weeks ago — to a Lord Jeff information day to explain why he is so offensive. And yet students and alumni are defending the mascot (and, I’m sure that infernal song) based on tradition — the same kind of tradition, it appears, that has led to the longevity of the SAE pro-lynching song.

It’s really fun to beat up on some OU frat boys for their private racism, but the continued celebration of a man known for his genocide is no less offensive.

19 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    And don’t forget that the OU teams are called the Sooners. That name praises land thieves who crossed the line early and illegally to stake out their claims ahead of the official opening of lands to claim as homesteads. It seems that our sports teams do a lot to perpetuate those on the wrong side of history.

    • emptywheel says:

      True. But it was the singing of a song that really hit home for me. The Lord Jeff song doesn’t mention the biowarfare directly, but it is well known at this point.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    Good concept, but on reflection, no. You start getting rid of all college-related stuff that’s politically incorrect and you are getting into deep water. Are you going to change Amherst’s name, for example? That would work out really well. How about schools that were founded/endowed with blood money of one sort or another? Divest ourselves of tainted money and gut our endowments? Erase all trace of the robber barons? If Halliburton wants to endow something good, should we allow that? Life is not clean-cut, and never will be. Many decent Americans work crap jobs in the military-industrial complex just to feed their families, for example. And anyway, just because your school has a questionable fight song doesn’t mean you can’t criticize another school.
    Sorry, still working on my first cuppa.

    • emptywheel says:

      I’m advocating getting rid of a personalized character that elicits boisterous celebrations of genocide.

      No need to change college name, as it is tied to the town of the same name. But so long as the mascot is the Jeff, people will publicly be celebrating, in loud drunken voices, the genocide of Native Americans.

      • bloopie2 says:

        “people will publicly be celebrating, in loud drunken voices, the genocide of Native Americans.” Really? They do that consciously? If so, I’m inferring that Jeffs aren’t smart enough to distinguish between the name of a person from long ago, and his bad deeds; or decent enough to know that they should not be as he was. And, why not change the school’s name? After all, the verses that you quote don’t say anything about genocidal actions; that connection can only be made by connection chaining through the name “Amherst”, so it’s the name that should be gotten rid of.

        • emptywheel says:

          No. The verses do refer to genocidal actions. The “conquer all his enemies” was done, in part, with smallpox.

          • bloopie2 says:

            I think it’s an indirect reference, not a positive recitation; someone (like me) who didn’t know the history would not make the connection, since all warriors and generals have the job of conquering enemies, and since it’s usually not done by genocidal means. Anyhow, I can see how one who knows this would be ashamed of it, and taking this one small step would be a good thing, even if we can’t change the whole world. Well done you.

  3. wallace says:

    Whoa!! University fraternal team spirit supported by traditions of white racist and genocidal themed songfests! Naw…really? In Murka. omg. Whudda thunk? Next thing you know we’ll find out they’ve been drinking beer,raping women and hanging minoritys. #Shameless @collegiatemoronswithlittledicks

  4. wallace says:

    quote”SAE was founded March 9, 1856, at the University of Alabama, five years before the American Civil War, according to the fraternity website. When the war began, the group had fewer than 400 members, of which “369 went to war for the Confederate States and seven for the Union Army,” the website says.

    The fraternity’s website lists more than 130 chapters cited or suspended for “health and safety incidents” since 2010. At least 30 of the incidents involved hazing, and dozens more involved alcohol.

    However, the list is missing numerous incidents from recent months. Among them, according to various media outlets: Yale University banned the SAEs from campus activities last month after members allegedly tried to interfere with a sexual misconduct investigation connected to an initiation rite.”unquote


    I’m shocked, I tell ya..shocked at them singing racist songs! Of all the nerve…


    note to self..file under

    Great Moments in Southern Fraternity’s Boys will be Boys.

    • wallace says:

      “note to self..file under

      Great Moments in Southern Fraternity’s Boys will be Boys.”

      or How to secretly spread racism across Murka in three words.

  5. wallace says:

    quote”I’m advocating getting rid of a personalized character that elicits boisterous celebrations of genocide. “unquote

    I’m advocating a viral shaming campaign to list every known member of SAE’s organization that elicits boisterous celebrations of racism to the point of this scumbag Fraternity’s obliteration.

  6. LB says:

    First to frame my argument, my bias is that all mascots are dumb/bad/other-bad-word etc. Get rid of the mascot and change the team name.

    Lord Jeff is an embarrassing mascot, as are all mascots and team names based on a historical person. The history of Jeffy makes the choice more embarrassing and more than embarrassing: I’m frustrated trying to explain him to my kids when I bring them to a game. I am also embarrassed when I see the arguments on both sides from students and alumni. A school like Amherst should produce at least a few eloquent and well reasoned thoughts on this. I am embarrassed that what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate our intelligence: Tradition? FFS, AYFKM? I say disrupt tradition with extreme prejudice. But also (sorry, maybe I’m wrong) the idea that “people will publicly be celebrating, in loud drunken voices, the genocide of Native Americans” seems to be an exaggeration. I have never sung that song, but maybe more people do than I realize.

    Now to get on with the offensive argument. I agree that coming up with the Lady Jeff’s was lazy, nonsensical, and a missed opportunity. Instead the school went “Full Retard” with a martingale bet on the name. In another extreme the most unifying trait of Amherst and the whole Pioneer Valley is a extraordinary ability to take offense at something like the meme “Full Retard”. In that tradition we should call the team the “PC” and have games with no scores and no winners. Did I read someone suggest a moose? In 10-20 years here I have seen three moose crossing route 9, no others. That is not representative of the area. But representation might not be a good idea either: A representative name based on the Amherst/Pioneer Valley community could be the “Anti-Vaxxers”. Perhaps, nothing could be a more inappropriate name change than that.

    So my vote is to lose the mascot and get a good team name and maybe a motto. The best team name I know of is “The All Blacks” then second best is the name of New Zealand’s badminton team. I’m not sure I have a good suggestion: “The Frost”? Not sure if the guy is likable but the name has a tough, cool feel–maybe too comic-bad-guy an image. The Amherst motto is wiki-translated “Let them light up the world”. “The Light” seems pretty meh as a team name but if looking for a team motto, look to Hampshire’s excellent school motto: “To know is not enough”. I would propose “To win is not enough”.

    Perhaps, in the time being, the teams should be known as “The team formally known as the Lord (Lady) Jeffs” signaling a rejection of years of feeble-minded clinging to tradition and embracing uncertainty until a suitable name is chosen. Like “The Purple Rain”, heh.

    • emptywheel says:

      One reason I’m sensitive is I remember when spouses of Amherst people meet who talk about how occasionally their spouse breaks out singing it when drunk.

      It’s really really ingrained, I think bc of the way the Zumbeyes sing it at concerts (or at least used to).

      That said, the rugby team never called themselves Lady and Lord Jeffs as far as I remember, and they’re some of the most competitive teams on campus.

      • LB says:

        Doing the Haka drunk is cool. Singing the Jeff song drunk should be grounds for divorce/revocation of diploma/intervention/auditing/I dunno. Not my crowd, so I’ve never seen it. The horror.

  7. Frederick Greene says:

    As an Amherst alum ’88, and a Lord Jeff Swimmer for my 4 years at college, I’m with Marcy on this one. Lord J.A. had nothing to do with founding our school (other than giving his name to its town) so, shouldn’t be too hard to drop the old boy and his bio-warfaring ass from our traditions. About time, too. Hey Dr. Martin…lead the way.

  8. orionATL says:

    well. well. it seems we have waded into yet another morass of american lightweight social moralizing – similar to last year’s tedious agonizing over the “sensitivity” of singing “hail to the redskins”.

    boorish racist behavior of the sort demonstrated at a univ of oklahoma fraternaty – how could that possibly be surprising? – is best treated by labeling it as such, and then treating it with a strong dose of public shaming.

    it is possible, of course, to go beyond this latest round of lightweight media-sponsored moralizing about frat-brat misbehavior:


  9. bloopie2 says:

    Here’s a few more college fight songs that are candidates for retirement.
    1. Ohio State; it’s badly done and childish (but then again, so are most college students).
    Drive, Drive on down the field, Men of the scarlet and gray; Don’t let them through that line, We’ve got to win this game today, COME ON OHIO!
    2. Michigan. Can you believe this drivel?
    We cheer them again, We cheer and cheer again, For Michigan, we cheer for Michigan, We cheer with might and main, We cheer, cheer, cheer, With might and main we cheer!
    3. Florida. More drivel.
    So give a cheer for the orange and blue, Waving Forever, Forever Pride of old Florida, May She droop never.

  10. bloopie2 says:

    Off topic, but couldn’t resist. Yet another benefit of promoting rebellion in Syria; think the Dutch will go for it? “The UN has drawn up radical plans for an “orderly relocation” of thousands of Syrian refugees from southern Europe to richer countries in the north, and is pressing the EU to agree to a year-long pilot program.”

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