SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) — The Dixie School District in this wealthy, liberal San Francisco Bay Area community has heard arguments about changing its name because some parents contend it’s linked to the Confederacy and reeks of racism.
The school board held a public meeting Tuesday night to consider whether to change the name of the 150-year-old district to one of 13 names submitted by residents. Hundreds of people packed the meeting.
No vote had been taken by late Tuesday night.
The issue has sparked weeks of heated online debate between parents in the overwhelmingly white city of 59,000 north of San Francisco, with some saying the Dixie name is racially insensitive and others arguing that the call for a change is political correctness run amok.
Dixie is a nickname associated with Southern states, especially the pro-slavery states that seceded from the United States and fought as the Confederacy during the Civil War. The legacy of the Confederacy has sparked political, legal and cultural battles, particularly in the South. Statues honoring Confederate generals and soldiers and the Confederate flag have been removed in places by those who say they honor a system that endorsed and defended white supremacism and slavery.
But opponents in the Dixie School District name fight even disagree on whether it is linked to the Confederacy at all.
The four-school district has about 1,700 students. It was founded in 1864, making it one of the oldest districts in Marin County.
James Miller donated land for the first schoolhouse. Those who support changing the name (https://www.changethename.net/) say the district was named Dixie by Miller on a dare by Confederate sympathizers. Those who oppose the change (https://wearedixie.org/the-history-of-james-miller-founder-of-dixie-school/) say the school system was named for Mary Dixie, a Miwok Indian woman that Miller knew in the 1840s.
“I belong to the Dixie tribe … I did not realize my family’s name was so offensive,” Marge Grow Eppard, a member of the Miwok tribe who said her family name is Dixie, told the board Tuesday. “I don’t see no Confederate flags here … You’re going to change Mary Dixie’s name, you dishonor all of us.”
“I don’t subscribe to the idea that everyone who wants to keep the name is racist,” said Patrick Nissim, a district alumnus. “But changing the name is not an indictment of this district. Changing the name is simply the next free chapter of this district’s history — it is a lesson in empathy.”
Opponents have also said that the school board agreed in November to put the name-change issue to a nonbinding community vote in 2020 and that it should stick to that decision.
Among the names the board was asked to consider were “Marie Dixie Elementary School District” and “Skywalker Elementary School District.”
Board President Brad Honsberger urged speakers to remain diplomatic.
“The political world these days seems charged and disrespectful, including hateful comments and blaming others,” Honsberger said. “Dixie has the opportunity to demonstrate how discourse can be respectful, courteous and accepting.”