Have You Ever Wondered:
Why are UC’s Colors Red & Black?

“The red and black banner floats on high, let all join in the battle cry”
- University of Cincinnati Alma Mater

An 1881 editorial in UC’s early student newspaper, The Academica, called for a selection of school colors. The article read, “The great majority of American colleges and universities have selected certain colors or combinations of colors, which, for want of an adequate term, we may designate as their ‘colors.’ These colors are of great use in intercollegiate contests in distinguishing the members of different colleges. They also have the effect of creating in the student a feeling of loyalty to his Alma Mater. Each year finds it more difficult to select colors that are not preoccupied. We, therefore, commend this matter to our students in the hope that they will at once take measures looking to the selection of colors for the University of Cincinnati.”

Submissions from students such as green alone or “black, sprinkled with a little white” began flowing in, but there wasn’t an immediate decision. On April 10, 1885, the UC baseball team took the field against Hughes High School. Oddly enough they were sporting white suits with blue stockings, belts and caps. Later that year, new baseball uniforms appeared in blue and brown. Although the university hesitated selecting official colors, each class took it upon themselves to select a unique color. Apparently the senior class adopted green and yellow for their colors, while the juniors claimed “maiden’s blush.” The sophomores that year adopted violet.

Keep in mind that the colors might have been worn as modest ribbons pinned to a lapel, but they signified allegiance in a much bloodier occasion known as “Flag Rush.” Once upon a time, and for nearly 50 years, Flag Rush was the most popular “sport” at the university and many campuses around the United States. In not so many words, here is how it worked: a class – freshmen, for example – posted a flag atop a wooden pole somewhere on campus and stationed guards to protect it. Their rival, another class, attempted to steal the flag and burn it. Both classes involved did whatever they could to win – including physical altercations and fisticuffs!

Although Flag Rush was popular, along with football, baseball and track, students attempted an additional athletic competition each spring called Field Day. In 1889, events included the tug of war, hop-step-and-jump, three straight jumps, throwing the baseball, and the 100-yard dash, among others. Music was provided by the Cincinnati Orchestra with solos by Herman Bellstedt, cornetist of Heuck’s Opera House orchestra.

As terrifying as it seems today, by 1889 students had basically adopted blue and brown as semi-official colors. The McMicken Review, another student publication stated, “Wear your class or the University colors…Remember the University has blue and brown, ’89 purple and white, ’90 blue and white, ’91 blue and gold, ’92 green and gold.”

When the baseball team took the field in 1890, they were in white shirts with a big, dark blue U and C stitched on them. The team manager at the time was senior William Strunk*. William Strunk served on the committee for the 1889 Field Day with sophomore J.B. Strauss. Both gentlemen actually held editorial positions on the McMicken Review. It was in those pages in the September 1891 edition that a poem entitled, The College on the Hill McMicken, was born and signed “J.B.S.” A line from that poem goes:

Dear colors on the heart resplendent glow,
Dear colors red and white you know.

Low and behold, J.B.S. was, of course, Joseph Baer Strauss. And if you don’t know, Strauss is man who designed the Golden Gate Bridge. In his published poem, Strauss appeared to be prompting a decision about university colors with his suggestion for red and white. By December 1891, Joseph had made a formal request for the adoption of university colors – this time for black and white. The student government voted against Strauss’ color combination, and created a committee of five to make a decision. This committee deliberated for five months before announcing in the spring of 1892 that the university colors would officially be black and scarlet.

Inspired by this decision, the student government went marching onward to other heights: “Black and scarlet, after considerable discussion, were adopted as the colors of the University of Cincinnati. Standard colors will soon be in the possession of the committee. All students are requested to wear these colors on all occasions.”

And that is how the University of Cincinnati adopted the Red & Black!

*William Strunk actually went on to write a book called Elements of Style which is a must on the desk of most writers and editors. Strunk also went on to enjoy a long career at Cornell University, where one of his students was E.B. White, the man who wrote Charlotte’s Web!

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