A panel of the Winston-Salem City Council has unanimously recommended ditching the name “Dixie” from the city’s annual fair.
The vote by the Community Development/Housing/General Government Committee, chaired by Councilwoman DD Adams, means the resolution to remove the name will come before the full city council for a vote on Aug. 19, accompanied by a second resolution tasking staff with developing a process to come up with a new name for the fair. Joining Adams, a Democrat who represents the North Ward, in today’s vote to recommend the change were Annette Scippio, a Democrat who represents the East Ward; Dan Besse, a Democrat who represents the Southwest Ward; and Robert Clark, a Republican who represents the West Ward.
Committee members balked at staff’s recommendation to hire a consultant for $60,000 to advise the city on a new name, which would have delayed city council action until the summer of 2020 and would have meant that any name change would not take effect until the fall of 2021. After Bishop Sir Walter Mack Jr., pastor of Union Baptist Church, brought a group to request the name change in the spring, the General Government Committee referred the proposal to the Fair Planning Committee, which hosted a contentious public input meeting in May, and the Public Facilities Committee. Both citizen committees ultimately determined they needed more input, sending the issue back to staff.
Adams and other council members acknowledged on Tuesday that it was unfair to place such a controversial decision on the shoulders of the citizen committees.
“Council member Besse’s correct: We put them on a hot seat,” Adams said. “This is a decision to me — it always has been — that the council should make.
“It’s not difficult,” she added. “It’s either yes or no — that’s the first step. Because if the council out of eight people and a [tie-breaking] vote from the mayor decide that they don’t want to change the name, then we’ll move on from that point and let the people be happy or the people be a little upset or whatever.”
Adams and Scippio, who are black, both recalled growing up in Winston-Salem and attending the Carolina Fair, which was designated for black residents, highlighting the segregationist history of the Dixie Classic Fair, which received its name in 1956.
“We had two fairs because it was the time in our nation when there was segregation,” Scippio said. “In that system, African Americans always got less than the majority culture. We got less. In that system we couldn’t be together.
“I’m not trying to deny anybody’s history,” Scippio continued. “But our history in America is not a wonderful history. And sometimes we have to own up to that. Things that are offensive, we tolerated it for many, many years.”
Besse, a white Democrat, said during the committee meeting that he was “comfortable to say I am in favor of changing the name.”
But two other white Democrats — Jeff MacIntosh and John Larson, who respectively represent the Northwest and South wards — expressed wariness towards the proposal.
MacIntosh, a New Jersey native, described himself as “name agnostic,” but added, “The amount of feedback that I’ve gotten from people that I know live in Winston, that I know live in my ward has been to not change the name.”
Adams said she believes it’s time for council to make a decision one way or the other.
“It’s either that you’re in or you’re out,” she said. “You gotta declare. You can abstain; you can do what you want, but the people look to us to make a decision. Let’s not get caught like those other places. Let’s just make a decision for the people of this city. And if the people that you represent feel as though you should vote one way or the other, let that be. It’s okay.”
Comments by Larson, who is the retired vice president of restoration at Old Salem Museum and Gardens, during the meeting framed the word “Dixie” as a regional identifier as opposed to a signifier of racial oppression.
“The removal of the word Dixie from Dixie Classic Fair is not going to change the presence of that word in Southern lexicon,” he said. “We will continue to have the Dixie Chicks, Dixie cups and Dixieland music. It will remain a part of the Southern landscape…. What we’re facing is a time to reinvent ourselves as a city and present ourselves in a new way.”
Larson requested of his council members “that we not demonize the word, and when we give reasons for approving our presentation to the public at large that we get away from that one issue that seems so critical.
“I understand it’s important, but we can accomplish this in a way that will pull this city back together,” he said. “I would like us not to demonize the word Dixie because that seems to be the rock upon which this whole thing is crushing itself.”
Larson and MacIntosh are not members of the General Government Committee, and did not get a vote on the resolution during the meeting on Tuesday. Non-members are typically invited to make comments during committee meetings.
Clark, the sole Republican on the city council, indicated he doesn’t hold any particular attachment to the word Dixie.
“I don’t think the world’s gonna — the biggest thing that affects attendance of the fair is rain,” he said. “And if it doesn’t rain we can have about 340,000 people. That’s the second biggest fair in the state after the state fair…. We do need to publicize it each year so people know what week it is…..
“I don’t think people are going to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is the Twin City or the Winston-Salem or whatever, and therefore I’m not going because I don’t like the name,’” Clark said. “They go because they like the rides, they like the animals, the food. They like to give the money to the guy to get the little teddy bear and all that.”
Mayor Allen Joines, a Democrat, did not attend the General Government Committee meeting, but indicated in an interview with Triad City Beat that he’s inclined to support the proposal to remove the name “Dixie” from the fair when the matter comes up for a vote on Aug. 19. The mayor only gets a vote in the event that the other eight members split down the middle and a tie needs to be broken.
Joines likened the issue to the Confederate monument, which he took the initiative to remove from a location outside the Old Courthouse in downtown earlier this year.
“I’ve had individuals, black and white, saying the name does not reflect the progressive nature of the city, and it’s hurtful to our residents to have that name out there so prominently,” Joines said. “Much like removing the Confederate statue, you try to be respectful where something like this is hurtful to them.”