Old Dixie Highway is no more in Riviera Beach, Fla. Instead, motorists are driving on President Barack Obama Highway.
Riviera Beach officials renamed the portion of the highway in their city limits, and the new sign carrying the name of the nation’s first black president went up Thursday. Old Dixie, officials said, paid homage to an era that glorified slavery.
The name was “symbolic of racism, symbolic of the Klan, symbolic of cross burnings, and today we are stepping up to a new day, a new era,” Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters told WPTV on Thursday.
The street itself carried a painful history for some. Dora Johnson, 77, told the television station that she once witnessed a cross-burning on Old Dixie Highway. Johnson will be given the old sign that has been removed, Masters told the Palm Beach Post.
The city council’s August vote to rename Old Dixie came at a time when many communities in the South were reconsidering Confederate flags and monuments. A national debate over such symbols began anew following the June shooting of nine parishioners by a white gunman inside a historic black church in South Carolina.
“Dixie” has become synonymous with the antebellum south, slavery and the states that seceded from the Union. The song “Dixie,” dubbed the anthem of the Confederacy, became popularized through minstrel shows with actors in blackface.
The Dixie Highway system was born in the early 1900s out of a desire to connect people further north to Florida, and the road snaked from the Midwest to the South.
“I love where I’m from,” resident Kendra Williams said during the August debate over the name change. “I love the South. But I do not love Dixie. Nothing about it represents black Americans.”
President Barack Obama Highway now intersects with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.