The city of Winston-Salem’s annual fair will no longer carry the name “Dixie.”
Winston-Salem City Council members voted 5-2 to make the change on Monday night, and in a separate vote instructed staff to develop a process to come up with a new name. The motion made by Councilwoman DD Adams, a Democrat representing the North Ward, did not say when the change might be implemented.
The difficult vote split the Democratic majority on city council, with only one white Democrat, joining three African-American colleagues in supporting the name change, while one black Democrat officially abstained, although his vote counted as a yes.
Adams said she hadn’t planned to speak about the motion, but her emotion was evident as she explained her vote, describing what it was like to be barred from attending the then whites-only Dixie Classic Fair as a black child of working-class parents growing up in Winston-Salem in the 1950s and ’60s.
“I couldn’t go to the Dixie Classic Fair, riding by with my dad, picking up my mom cleaning houses in Buena Vista, and we wanted to go because the lights were so bright and pretty as little kids,” Adams recounted. “And we were like, ‘Dad, Mommy, we wanna go.’ They did not have the whatever you want to call it within themselves to tell their children that they could not go because of the color of their skin.
“And for those of you that came here, live here, born here that think that the people in this community that are colored people, that we don’t live under a quiet veil of pain, because you don’t understand our pain by these words that matter, you don’t understand that we couldn’t go downtown,” Adams added. “There was a ‘colored’ part of town and a white part of town, and some of y’all know beyond Church Street we couldn’t go.”
Dan Besse, a Democrat who represents the Southwest Ward, was the only white member of council to support the name change.
“The name ‘Dixie’ has no special connection to Winston-Salem or Forsyth County,” he said. “It’s widely understood to refer to the American South generally, with all the associations that raises, from hospitality and sweet tea to Jim Crow and the Confederacy. The meaning of the name shapes itself to the experience of the beholder.”
Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward, and Annette Scippio, who represents the East Ward, also voted for the change.
Voting to oppose the change were Democrats John Larson and Jeff MacIntosh, who represent the South and Northwest wards, respectively. Robert Clark, the sole Republican on council, did not attend the meeting. Mayor Allen Joines said Clark was out of the country. Last week, Clark voted as a member of the General Government Committee to recommend the name change, arguing that it was time for council to make a decision and move on.
Larson said the city received 11,000 public comments on the proposal to rename the fair, with 86 percent opposing the name change.
“‘Dixie’ is a name that’s deeply embedded as a unique geographical region in this nation that’s synonymous with the South,” he said. “The application runs the full spectrum, from paper products to women’s names. Dixie sugar. Dixie cups. We’ve heard it all. Certainly these are not a celebration of slavery. Expunging the name ‘Dixie’ from the masthead of a fair will not remove it from the Southern lexicon, nor will it erase the shameful blot of slavery and the subsequent racism and curse that still holds on to this country and the South in particular.”
James Taylor Jr., a black Democrat, said the ward he represents — the Southeast — is the most diverse in the city, with residents roughly split into thirds among African-Americans, Latinx people and whites. Taylor recalled that he floated the idea in 2015 of removing the name “Dixie” from the fair, and then selling the naming rights. At the time, Taylor said, he “received a lot of angry messages, a lot of death threats, a lot of veiled threats.” Because of the overwhelming opposition of his constituents, Taylor said he decided to back off from the proposal.
“I don’t believe that allows me to change the word that I gave four years ago, not to move forward with what I believe has become a divisive issue in our city,” Taylor said, explaining his decision to abstain from the vote. “I also stand behind my word, which my father taught me, and I teach to my children. When a man or a woman gives their word, they keep it. I stand by my word at this time but I also stand by my commitment to those constituents to not pursue this issue further.”
Burke, who relinquished her position as chair of the Public Safety Committee to Taylor in 2013, implicitly rebuked him without mentioning him by name.
“When you’re an elected official, I want you to know sometimes you’ve got to stand up to be counted like a man or a woman,” she said.
During the public comment period after the vote, four people spoke in support of the decision, while three spoke against it.
Kris McCann, an East Ward resident who has unsuccessfully run for state House, singled out Adams, accusing her of not caring.
“Our fair isn’t changing because it’s a racist name,” McCann said. “It’s being changed because we have a group who wants to exercise racism on our council. I think it’s sad.”
Then, McCann turned to Besse, who initiated an unsuccessful effort in early 2017 to pass a resolution declaring Winston-Salem to be a “welcoming city.”
“I remember when you wanted to make our city a sanctuary city,” McCann said. “You didn’t care about the citizens of Winston-Salem. You would have had the citizens of our community walking in the feces of illegal immigrants.”
Following his racist comment against immigrants, McCann continued, “And, yes sir, I am entitled to my heritage, even though you don’t think that I am, and I intend to act on it. I intend also to exercise a committee to continuing looking at the possibility of running for mayor of this community.”
Other opponents of the name change argued that it was a bad business decision. Richard Miller, a property owner on Trade Street, warned that the midway operator might “back out and go somewhere else.” James Knox, a tow-truck operator and Northeast Ward resident who lost a mayoral challenge to Allen Joines in 2013 after addressing an election worker as “n***er,” predicted that the name change will discourage residents from Stokes and Surry counties from attending.
Bishop Todd Fulton, the social justice chair of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity, applauded the council members for their decision, and then addressed the community at large.
“If you want to name your dog ‘Dixie,’ have at it,” he said. “If you want to name your cat ‘Dixie,’ that’s cool with me. If you want to name your goldfish ‘Dixie,’ congratulations.
“But no longer will we pay our taxpayer dollars in Winston-Salem to deal with the pain and the hurt.”