Happy Birthday to the “Alcorn Ode”

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It is time for the Alcorn State University community to celebrate.  April 29, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the “Alcorn Ode” as Alcorn State University’s school song.

On March 4, 1918, Mrs. Estelle Bomar Himes, wife of Mechanical Arts Instructor Joseph Sandy (J. S.) Himes, sent a poem “of her own composition” to the Alcorn A. & M. College weekly faculty meeting which President Levi J. Rowan was chairing.  Offering the poem as the college song, Mrs. Himes informed the faculty that her poem was “designed to be set to music.”  President Rowan appointed a committee to meet with Mrs. Himes to review the poem and later report the results of the meeting to the faculty as a whole.  This committee, which was chaired by Professor Preston S. Bowles, considered the viewing of the proposed college song a sacred task, one not to be taken lightly.  At the next faculty meeting, which was held on March 11, 1918, Bowles asked for more time to confer with Mrs. Himes about her song.  Finally, on April 29, 1918, the committee invited Mrs. Himes to the faculty meeting to render her proposed ode “in whatever way she might find it most effective.”  With her “song, words, and music,” Mrs. Himes came before the body with a quartette composed of Miss Hermione Rowan, Miss Susie Norwood, Mr. A. J. Love, and Mr. James Goode who rendered the song.  Afterwards the faculty voted unanimously to adopt it as the official college ode.  Because it was the custom at that time for a woman to identify herself according to her husband’s name, Mrs. Himes signed her name to the ode as Mrs. J. S. Himes.  Since that time, the university community has been singing the ode on its most celebratory occasions such as Honors and Founders Day Programs, commencement exercises, and sports events.

At this centennial observance of the “Alcorn Ode,” faculty, staff, and students at Alcorn State are paying tribute to Mrs. Himes for her gift of song.  When asked what her reflection was on this occasion, Dr. Josephine M. Posey, author of Succeeding against Great Odds: Alcorn State University in Its Second Century, said, “This occasion is an important milestone in Alcorn’s history.  Because of the musical talent and time that Mrs. Himes devoted to composing her song, it has sustained itself for an entire century. Though I mentioned her in my book, it was she who wrote herself into the university’s history.”

Several faculty, staff, and students recently participated in a re-enactment of how Mrs. Himes’ college song became the “Alcorn Ode.”  One of the participants, Darian Landers-Shaw, a Freshman Education major from Vicksburg, Mississippi, who portrayed Mrs. Himes in the re-enactment, said, “It is important that students know the words to the ode and the history behind it.  So often we talk about things that have happened ‘beneath the shade of giant trees,’ but we need to remember that those words came from Mrs. Himes.  She said them first.”

Another of the participants, Sonya Faulknor, a Junior Music Education major from Montego Bay, Jamaica, stated, “I applaud Mrs. Himes for writing the ‘Alcorn Ode’ and for putting it to music.  She has left a legacy here at Alcorn State that each music major now represents.”  Corey Martin, a Senior Vocal Performance major from Memphis, Tennessee, would agree with Faulknor.  He said, “I was proud to be a part of the presentation to bring Mrs. Himes back to life and back to the campus in a novel way.  She herself was a creative genius, and she deserves our commendation for her song.”

Mrs. Himes and her husband had three sons, including Chester B. Himes, who became an internationally acclaimed fiction writer.  Several chapters in one of his novels, The Third Generation, are set on the campus of the State College for Negroes in Mississippi, a thinly-disguised representation of Alcorn A. & M. College.  More tributes to Mrs. Himes as the composer of the “Alcorn Ode” are planned for later this year.

Note: The historical content for this narrative comes from The Alcorn A. & M. Faculty Record, 1912-1921.

 

 

J. Janice Coleman is a Professor in the Department of English, Foreign Languages and Mass Communications. She will be a contributor to The Campus Chronicle for the Spring 2018 semester.

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