Following a months-long debate marked by increasingly rancorous charges and countercharges, the Dixie School District in Northern California is changing its name.
Board members of the small school system just north of San Francisco voted Tuesday evening to replace the name, which opponents said is a racist vestige of the Confederacy and the proslavery South. The board did not choose a new moniker for the 2,000-student district in San Rafael, instead calling for an advisory group to provide suggestions and for the board to approve a name by the time the next school year begins in late August.
Board member Marnie Glickman, who helped lead the effort to rename the district, said the vote was overdue.
“Words matter. History matters,” Glickman said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “This decision is the best decision for our students and the best decision for our community. It will become stronger, more diverse and more resilient.”
For now, there is still lingering resentment over the controversy that roiled the surface calm in the wealthy, liberal school district and set neighbor against neighbor in angry social media exchanges over what path to take. The vote by the five member board was not unanimous: One member voted against the change, and another abstained.
Supporters of the Dixie name said it was not racist and that the ties to the Confederacy could not be firmly established. Members of We Are Dixie, the group formed in support of keeping the name, said Dixie should remain for the sake of tradition. And they argued that changing the name was caving to politically correct demands from a small cadre.
A representative of We Are Dixie declined to comment on the board’s vote.
While the battle over the district’s name had heated up since August, when Glickman began the push to change it, the fight is not new. Opponents of the Dixie name first expressed concerns two decades ago, and the issue has arisen intermittently since.
According to a history of the original Dixie schoolhouse, the granddaughter of the school’s founder recalled he named it Dixie on a dare by Confederate sympathizers who helped build the first schoolhouse in 1864. That structure still stands as a museum on the grounds of the district’s only middle school.
Those who fought to remove the Dixie name point to that history as an obvious tie to the Confederacy. They also argued that whatever its origins, the name had to be viewed in context with its association with slavery, the Lost Cause movement that celebrated white supremacy and the South’s reasons for fighting the Civil War and institutional racism.
“Some people here just want to say, ‘We’re this beautiful, idyllic place where everyone wants to live.’ But, no, we have to have these discussions,” Tina Mitaine, an African American mother of two students in Dixie schools, told The Washington Post in February. “Racism is not a thing of the past — it’s around now, and it’s hurtful.”
Calls for changing the name increased in recent months as politicians and community leaders signed on to efforts to replace Dixie. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, who oversees all of the county’s school districts, supported the change, as did the San Francisco NAACP and the Marin Interfaith Council.
Newspaper editorials in local papers also called for dropping Dixie and starting over.
“Granted, the name of a 2,000-student district in a corner of Bay Area suburbia is hardly among the most pressing issues of our time. But the sheer triviality of the question of what such an entity calls itself makes the lost-cause defense of Dixie that much more ridiculous,” the San Francisco Chronicle opined on Feb. 13.
The Marin Independent Journal concurred, declaring earlier this month, “It’s time the district bears a new name — one that everyone finds an appropriate fit for the community today.”
Bruce Anderson, who is African American and lives in the school district, sent his son and grandson to Dixie schools. He has helped lead the effort to change the name, and for him the school board’s vote felt like a long awaited victory.
“Elation,” Anderson said on Wednesday, describing his reaction. “I’m mostly feeling good about the way we’ve organized and got people together and involved in this whole process. None of us met before, and now we’re good friends. It has resulted in a greater community togetherness.”
Anderson, who attended the board meeting Tuesday, said that while the long battle to change the name was acrimonious at times, he does not think anger over the decision will endure.
“I saw people there last night, including old friends, that were for keeping the name and they accepted the decision,” he said. “The sun still rose this morning and the sky didn’t fall in.”