Less than a month after the city of Winston-Salem took down the Confederate statue downtown, a group is calling on the city to take the word “Dixie” out of the name of the Dixie Classic Fair.

Several speakers told members of the Winston-Salem City Council on Tuesday that the name Dixie is offensive because of its association with slavery in the South and that the fair needs a new name.

“Dixie does represent the Southern states that fought to hold on to slavery,” said Bishop Sir Walter Mack Jr., the pastor of Union Baptist Church. Mack said that in 1988 he did research on the name “Dixie,” and he has not been to the fair since that time.

Mack was one of three people who spoke to the council’s general-goverment committee about the fair name, but Mack said he and the others were working in partnership with Love Out Loud, an organization that works to link a number of the city’s various churches together across racial and denominational lines.

Mack called the fair’s name “derogatory and divisive to our community,” and said that people who want the name changed include African Americans, whites, Asians and Hispanics.

The Rev. Carl Manuel, the pastor of Burkhead United Methodist Church, suggested that the name Dixie is a relic of the past:

“This is not 1969, this is 2019,” Manuel said. “If things have changed in Washington, D.C., and in Raleigh, N.C., why can’t we make a change here? We are in the season of Lent. We need to search our hearts and minds. Let’s repent and start over and give the fair a name everyone will be comfortable going to.”

The third speaker, Rob Alexander, told council members that while he is a descendant of a Confederate soldier, he favors a name change that has the fair looking “forward instead of back.” Alexander said the name Dixie should “not be glorified, and needs to be remembered for what it was.”

He said the city took “the bold and brave step of removing the Confederate monument.”

“Changing the name of the fairground is something we can and should do together,” Alexander said.

None of the council members at Tuesday’s committee meeting voiced any objection to changing the name, although there were calls for city staff members to investigate how the name of the fair was changed in 1956 to include “Dixie.”

Council Member James Taylor suggested in 2015 that the name of the fair could be changed but backed off in the face of opposition. Taylor was not at Tuesday’s general government meeting, but he said Tuesday night that he doesn’t plan to get involved in the issue again.

Taylor said that people told him “overwhelmingly” in 2015 that the name shouldn’t change and that settled it for him.

Council members listening to Mack and the others during Tuesday’s committee meeting sounded much more open to changing the name.

“I think it is a fascinating opportunity to rebrand ourselves,” Council Member John Larson said. “We do need to have a thorough understanding of the history. We have a fair committee involved in branding and marketing. Maybe they should bring a recommendation back to this board.”

Kathleen Garber of the city’s Fair Planning Committee, contacted by telephone after the meeting Tuesday, said that the fair committee’s members were just learning of the request and hadn’t had time to talk about it.

“I think it is a valid point for discussion,” Garber said. “I know there are a variety of opinions on both sides.”

In 2015, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that the fair had undergone several name changes during its history of more than 130 years. The Dixie Classic name dates to 1956. Before then, it was known as the Forsyth County Fair. Local historian Fam Brownlee said at the time that the name appeared to have been changed to emphasize a broader reach than just Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

In 2014, the city changed the name of the fairgrounds complex to the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. A local man started a petition to change the name back to Dixie Classic Fairgrounds, although the official name for some time had actually been the Winston-Salem Entertainment-Sports Complex.

When the name-change controversy broke out in 2015, William Ferris, a co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, called the word Dixie “a highly charged word” that, like the Confederate flag, would “increasingly be relegated to the pages of history.”

More recently, it is the presence of Confederate war memorials that has come under fire in many cities, including Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina, where protesters toppled statues.

The Confederate statue that formerly stood in downtown Winston-Salem remains in storage, for eventual placement in the privately owned Salem Cemetery. The United Daughters of the Confederacy have sued the city in an effort to have the statue put back at the corner of Fourth and Liberty streets.

Statue opponents have argued that they were erected during a time when the white supremacy movement was on the rise in the South and that the monuments were thus more than simply memorials to dead soldiers.

Council Member Dan Besse said during Tuesday’s committee meeting that he wants to know more about how the fair got the name Dixie attached.

“I was interested ... in how it became the title of this fair,” Besse said. “Was there explicit discussion of remembering the Confederacy?”

Although Mack said advocates of a name-change have suggested several alternatives, Council Member D.D. Adams said any name-change will have to follow a process.

“I have no issue with Love Out Loud providing us a name,” Adams said. “We have to make sure that citizens as a whole have an opportunity” to make suggestions.

Council Member Robert Clark said the name that comes to his mind is Winston-Salem Fair.

Mayor Allen Joines said one part of the old name should remain:

“Keeping the word ‘Classic’ out there keeps our brand out there,” Joines said.

wyoung@wsjournal.com 336-727-7369 @wyoungWSJ

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