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Prince: Keep it Dixie

Published January 1, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By Gregory A. Prince

For The Salt Lake Tribune

Having been a student at Dixie State College, a member of its National Advisory Council since 2000, and an heir to St. George ancestry stretching back to 1861, I have some appreciation of the emotions currently driving the debate over naming the school as it moves toward university status.

Recently, the Ogden Standard-Examiner weighed in with a thoughtful and pertinent editorial on the name of Weber State University. Despite confusion about the word "Weber" in other parts of the country, "diligent marketing and academic achievement have helped to counter any national confusion about where the school is located, or how to pronounce its name." The editorial then endorsed retaining "Dixie" in the name of the future university.

While the use of the name Dixie in connection with the college does not date to its founding — the original name was the St. George Stake Academy — we are now at the centennial of that connection. For fully half of that century, the name referred entirely to the region's nickname of "Utah's Dixie," a reference to the "Cotton Mission" organized by Brigham Young in 1861.

The first mascot of the college was "Dolphins." It later became "Flyers," a reference to the aviation culture of St. George in the early 20th century. Not until the separation of Dixie College from Dixie High School in the early 1960s did the new nickname of "Rebels" come into being.

It is clear now that the use of "Rebels" as the mascot for the college was a mistake, for it led to references to the Confederacy, use of the Confederate flag, and rare but shameful forays into racism documented in recent Salt Lake Tribune articles.

These wrongs have been addressed by the college community, which no longer tolerates any association with the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, the nickname "Rebels," or any hint of racism.

This appropriate and authentic cleansing has restored the brand to its original status of homage to pioneers who endured unimaginable hardships for a religion-based quest to produce a commodity that the Civil War had removed from territorial merchants' shelves.

In a Dec. 10 news story ("Utah's Dixie was steeped in slave culture, historians say"), The Tribune's reference to Robert Covington, a former slave owner, as having been "dispatched by church leaders to Utah's Virgin River Basin to lead a 'cotton mission' because of his experience on Mississippi plantations," while historically accurate, is a gross misuse of history.

In all the time I have spent in St. George, I have never heard his name, much less the disgusting stories of his racist behavior.

Historian Will Bagley's allegation in the story that "the name Dixie reflects the sympathy that southern Utah and the Mormon people felt for the Confederacy" is a malignant and insulting perversion of the broader historical record of the region, and cannot be the basis of any serious discussion of the college.

I have spent eight years on the foundation board of Montgomery College in Maryland, one of the top community colleges in the country. Its emeritus president, an African-American gentleman who served previously at Mesa Community College in Arizona, was effusive in his praise for Dixie. If any demographic were to be offended by the name Dixie, it would be that to which he belongs, but there was never a hint of offense. Others in the East have either praised Dixie State College if they had prior knowledge of it, or been intrigued and impressed when I explained the origin of the name.

This name is what you make it to be. We have cleaned off the soil that should never have become attached to the name Dixie State College, and if we honor the name in the future as it was honored in the past, it will give our great educational institution a unique and enviable brand.

Gregory A. Prince, Dixie College Class of 1967, lives in Potomac, Md.