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.
Timeline of the Dixie Classic Fair: 1882
The county’s first fair is a Wheat Fair held on Aug. 26, at Pace Warehouse. It features 28 wheat exhibitors, agricultural displays, speakers and a band.
The Wheat and Cattle Fair takes place on Aug. 30, also at Pace Warehouse.
A second day is added to the Wheat and Cattle Fair, and the exhibitors expand to include horses, hogs, sheep, hay, farm products and tobacco. Also, an entry fee is charged for the first time.
The Fair of the Bashavia Farmers’ Club of Vienna Township is held Oct. 21 at the District School House at Oak Grove.
In August, the State Fruit Fair is held over two days at Brown’s Warehouse at the corner of Main and Fifth streets. The 25-cent admission helps pay the premiums for winners of categories including fruits, vegetables, canned goods, flowers, wine and cider.
The first Forsyth County Fair is held at Oak Grove School House on Oct. 21.
The Winston Tobacco Fair is held from Nov. 3 to 5.
This year’s fair is renamed the Piedmont Tobacco Fair and is held Nov. 2 to 4. Attractions include a balloon ascension, bicycle parades, concerts and fireworks. The midway is on the square between Fourth, Fifth, Church and Railroad streets.
The Winston-Salem Horse Show, Carnival and County Fair take place Oct. 24 through 28, with an admission fee of 25 cents. Attractions include a ferris wheel and Wild West exhibitions and museum.
The first “colored fair” for black residents opens at Piedmont Park north of Winston in Forsyth County on Aug. 20. The fair garners notice as far away as Charlotte, where the newspaper notes the mile-long parade before the fair and large crowds. The fair has prizes for pretty women and babies, baseball games and trains from Winston every 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Piedmont Park and surrounding areas are home to the Piedmont Horse Show and Cattle Fair, the County Fair, the Street Fair and Winston’s Semi-Centennial Celebration from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.
White fairs statewide organize to coordinate their schedules, with the Forsyth County Fair Association holdings its fair at Piedmont Park Oct. 28 to Nov. 2 following fairs on successive weeks in Greensboro, Burlington and Raleigh.
An annual Colored Fair begins in Rural Hall in 1904, continuing for a number of years. Meanwhile, efforts begin in Winston to organize a fair for black residents in the city. The fair for white residents moves for a short time to Patterson Avenue, near where Woodlawn Cemetery is today. The fair’s consistent growth means a new fairground needs to be built. In May 1908, almost 29 acres of land is acquired for this purpose from Piedmont Park, creating a site for the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Fair until 1950. Throughout the years of segregation there are separate fairs for white and black residents in Forsyth County. In its heyday, according to local historian Fam Brownlee, the fair for black residents is the second-largest in the state, behind only the State Fair in Raleigh. Over many years, the Winston-Salem Fair entertains all-white crowds, while the Western Carolina Fair hosts black audiences.
Charles H. Babcock donates land for a new fairgrounds at its current site; the fair is first held there in 1951.
The Carolina Colored Fair, later the Carolina Fair, for black residents is formed in 1953 after the dissolution of the Western Carolina Fair, its forerunner. The current fair gets its name of Dixie Classic Fair for Northwest North Carolina. Fair manager Neil Bolton is credited with changing the name to reach a wider geographical area.
Integration comes to the Dixie Classic Fair in 1963. The Carolina Fair starts going into decline as black residents spend their money at the larger Dixie Classic Fair. In 1964, Strate Shows Inc. begins providing the midway shows, rides and games at the Dixie Classic. The Carolina Fair closes in 1968. In 1969, the Winston-Salem Foundation gives the fairgrounds, Memorial Coliseum and $75,000 to the City of Winston-Salem. The fair generates income to cover its operating expenditures and other payments.
Memories of the Dixie Classic Fair
The Education Building is built to house competitive fair exhibits and offseason events.
The first historic log building is added to the fairgrounds and Yesterday Village is born. Today this section contains 19 structures that were built in the late 1700s and 1800s, including cabins, barns, a corn crib and a one-room schoolhouse.
The Neil Bolton Home and Garden Building is built and named for the fair manager from 1956 to 1972.
The fair celebrates its 125th anniversary and sets an attendance record of 371,219 — making it the 50th largest fair in North America.
The city starts calling the fairgrounds the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds but stresses that the fair name stays Dixie Classic. City officials say they had called the whole area, including Joel Coliseum, the Winston-Salem Entertainment-Sports Complex and needed a new marketing name after the sale of the Coliseum in 2013 to Wake Forest University.
Winston-Salem Council Member James Taylor suggests changing the name of the Dixie Classic Fair, saying the current name is a divisive reminder of the Confederacy. Taylor backs away in the face of a public outcry against the proposal.
Citizens propose removing the name of Dixie from the fair, saying it evokes slavery and the Confederacy.