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Salt Lake NAACP president: The name ‘Dixie’ is racist and must go

The NAACP and its constituents ask Utah senators to pass HB278, starting a name change process for Dixie State University.

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NAACP Salt Lake Branch President Jeanetta Williams speaks during the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Luncheon at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. As the Utah Senate debates a proposed name change at Dixie State University, Williams writes that the current name “has racist connotations.”

Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News

As president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch and Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, I am writing representing the NAACP statewide and our constituents. 

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.

For well over 15 years, the NAACP has fought to remove confederate symbols from Dixie State University and to change its name. The opportunity for the state of Utah to support HB278, sponsored by Sen. Michael K. McKell, is now. 

A number of the legislators and community folks claim that the name Dixie has nothing to do with race, it has nothing to do with the South, and it has nothing to do with slavery. But in histories past it has everything to do with all of these.

The name Dixie has racist connotations in conjunction with Dixie State University’s previous traditions and Southern symbolism.

Administrators removed the longtime Rebel mascot in 2005 amid controversy surrounding its Confederate ties. At the time, they replaced it with Red Storm, which didn’t resonate with students. With the new mascot, Brooks the Bison (named after Dixie’s first student in 1911, Samuel Brooks), Dixie State University has now changed its mascot and athletics logo again. The university’s teams are now known as the Trailblazers.

Dixie State University’s campus statue was of Confederate soldiers, called “The Rebels.” The statue depicted Confederate soldiers and a horse. One of the soldiers carried a Confederate battle flag. For much of the latter half of the 20th century, the school’s mascot was “Rodney Rebel,” a Confederate soldier. The Rebels statue was removed from Dixie State University’s campus in 2012 and placed in storage. Later, the statue was returned to the artist.

The 1968, 1969 and 1970, Dixie Junior College yearbooks were all named “The Confederate.” This title tradition carried into the 1990s.  

Aside from the meaning of “Dixie” and the rebel mascot, Dixie State University’s yearbooks from the 1910s-1990s have pictures with irrefutable ties to the South and racist imagery with students wearing blackface in the 1950s-1970s yearbook, Halloween dances and other events, and the Confederate battle flag on display at sports games and parades. The 1916 yearbook even contains an illustrated caricature of an African American with the caption “I’s sho’ fo’ Dixie.”

Dixie State University was nicknamed the Flyers before the name was changed to the Rebels in 1951. For over five decades that stuck, but the Rebel name was changed to the Red Storm due to the Rebels’ controversial reference to the Confederacy back in the Civil War era.

Now, in 2021, it is time to change the name Dixie State University to another name with no discriminatory history. 

With a Confederate soldier statue on the property and photos in archives where students are in blackface and having a slave auction, it is extremely difficult to disassociate Dixie University from the Confederacy. 

The removals of confederate symbols across the United States have been driven by the belief that the monuments glorify white supremacy and memorialize an unrecognized, treasonous government whose founding principle was the perpetuation of slavery. The presence of these Confederate memorials over a hundred years after the subjugation of the Confederacy was wrong.

Now, in 2021, it is time to change the name Dixie State University to another name with no discriminatory history. 

The NAACP and our constituents are asking Utah senators to pass HB278: the name change process for Dixie State University. We ask that the amendment be stricken out to leave the St. George campus name of “Dixie campus.” 

Jeanetta Williams is the president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch and Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah.