The name “Dixie” in Southern Utah has been a divisive term for a number of decades now.
I’m a fifth-generation St. Georgian. I attended Dixie High School (Go Flyers!) and Dixie State University is my alma mater. I even lived below the famous “Dixie Rock” while growing up. The name is everywhere.
Locals often associate this name with Latter-day Saint pioneers who settled the area to grow cotton, some of whom had been Southerners. Most notable was Robert D. Covington, an early leader of the Cotton Mission. These early settlers imported more than just the nickname of the South — they also imported the imagery that went along with it.
Throughout my life, I have watched the community display Confederate imagery, particularly the Confederate battle flag, as a symbol of their heritage while ignoring the associated racism, hate and pain the name and symbols represent to millions of other Americans who were enslaved, oppressed and killed under those symbols. But St. George isn’t actually part of the Southern United States, so is it heritage or is it hate in the case of Southern Utah?
Debates over the name “Dixie” to refer to Southern Utah have repeatedly been raised over the last few decades. But while many people claim the name is simply symbolic of the settlers’ Southern roots, the name “Dixie” was never disassociated from racism in Utah.
The college yearbook was called the “Confederate,” and even had a club called the Ku Klux Klan. I’m not the only St. Georgian who recognizes the problems of adopting the name “Dixie.” Recently, DSU’s mascot moved from being the Rebels, a clear symbol of Confederate disunity and racial oppression, to the Trailblazers — a change I applauded.
But was that enough? I don’t think so. The name should go.
For many Americans, the name “Dixie” connotes slavery, the Jim Crow era of terror and systemic racism that continues today. Plastering the name on schools, businesses and billboards makes the name seem harmless and normalizes symbols of racial bigotry.
Recent events have highlighted the need for white people in this country to educate themselves more about the history and existence of racial discrimination in our communities. While much needs to be done, the first steps my community could take would be to remove symbols that normalize racism in Utah and call out false narratives surrounding historical figures.
Recently the University of Utah did just this when it announced that all incoming freshmen would be educated about the Ute tribe as part of an agreement to continue using that name. If St. Georgians insist on keeping the name “Dixie,” they should pay for that choice with education by implementing a similar curriculum in schools focusing on how systemic racial discrimination occurred and still occurs in our home state.
For instance, students could learn and grapple with the fact that a number of LDS pioneers were slave owners and brought slaves with them to Utah. St. George’s very own Robert D. Covington had been a slave overseer before emigrating to Utah. Many early Latter-day Saint settlers clearly brought racist ideas to the territory.
We have a choice to correct the errors of the past or to repeat them. Whether the name stays or not (and I, for the record, think it should go), we need to stop clinging to past rationalizations and begin finding ways to write a more complete history based on inclusion and equality.
Marcus Stucki is a fifth-generation Southern Utahn who grew up deeply immersed in the culture of St. George with continued ties to the area through family and ancestry. He now lives in Murray and works at the University of Utah doing biomedical research.