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Marin neighbors demand Dixie School District change its name

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Away, away, away up north in Dixie

The original Dixie schoolhouse.
The original Dixie schoolhouse.
Photo by SanFranMan59/Wikicommons

Some Marin County residents don’t cotton to the name of the San Rafael-based Dixie School District and have now launched a site dubbed Change The Name to try to do away with the North Bay school zone’s southern-friend moniker.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Dixie name dates back to the days of the Civil War itself but that nobody can quite agree on whether it was originally meant to refer to the Confederacy or not.

Either despite or because of the name’s long history, some North Bay parents say it reflects poorly on the community today. According to the objectors’ Change The Name site:

Even a month after the founding of the Dixie School District, people recognized the name “Dixie” was a direct reference to the pro-slavery south. [...] In the December 11, 1863 edition of the Red Bluff Independent, the paper wrote the following in response to the establishment of the “Dixie School District”:

[...] The most surprising thing about this name is that the inhabitants of such a district should ever desire the establishment of such a radical thing as a school. Probably the effects of association with civilized people in this State.”

The site also notes that the campaign to get the original Dixie schoolhouse added to the National Register of Historic Places played up Civil War association, alleging that early Marin County settler James Miller picked the name on a dare.

Various historical sources, such as the Marin County Genealogical Society, support this account, although there does not seem to be a unanimous consensus behind it.

Those Dixie parents who want to keep the name as-is have launched a site of their own, We Are Dixie, and present an entirely different opinion about the origins of the divisive moniker, claiming that the district is actually the namesake of one Mary Dixie:

A real Miwok woman from the Gold Country near the town of Murphy’s [sic] that James Miller’s (the founder of our district and school) in-laws founded and where James Miller lived after coming over from Missouri via Iowa in 1844 as one of the families in the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada’s (17 years before the civil war).

[...] The legacy of the Dixies in the California Valley Miwok family is well known in the community. In fact her descendant Yakima Dixie who recently passed in 2017 continued her legacy as chair of the tribe until his death.

Photo by Kiddo27

The Dixie School District covers three elementary schools in San Rafael and estimates its combined student body at about 1,750.

The fight over the name is hardly new. In 2015, national debate about displays of the Confederate flag in southern states stirred up Dixie ire in Marin County again.

Mill Valley resident Kerry Peirson, who organizes much of the anti-Dixie initiative, told the San Jose Mercury News that he first challenged the name back in the 1990s.

In San Francisco, similar arguments about the appropriateness of historical namesakes engendered name changes at Embarcadero Plaza (formerly Justin Herman Plaza) and Phelan Way (soon to be Frida Kahlo Way).

Stanford University recently stripped most but not quite all references to Junipero Serra from its campus.

Stanford cofounder Leland Stanford was himself an outspoken racist who referred to Chinese immigrants as “an inferior race.” But taking his name off the school would obviously be a much heavier lift.