August 21, 2019

The Winston-Salem City Council’s Dixie Debate Word-For-Word

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Monday night’s Winston-Salem City Council meeting was one for the history books. The resolution to rename the Dixie Classic Fair passed by a 4-2 margin, with one abstention, effectively the resolution passed 5-2. Denise Adams, Dan Besse, Vivian Burke, and Annette Scippio voted yes. John Larson and Jeff MacIntosh voted no. And James Taylor, who was the first politician to suggest that the Dixie Classic Fair’s name should be changed in 2015, abstained.

Supporters of the name “Dixie” were upset that public comment was scheduled after the vote. The public comment period typically is at the end of council meetings. It’s likely that if the vote had been held after the public comments the vote would have been unanimous. Surely none of the Councilmembers wanted to be on the same side as unrepentant racists Kris McCann and James Knox.

The City did the right thing. The name “dixie” has been in the city’s annual fair since 1956. It’s time for a change. Winston-Salem can no longer deny the fact that dixie has a lot of racist baggage. The fact that the term “Dixie” has so much support in our city is a strong argument for universal African American history classes in WS/FC Schools. Instead of having a public hearing on the name of the Dixie Classic Fair, back in May, the City should of had a teach-in on the meaning of “Dixie.”

I sympathize with critics on the left who say that debating the name of the Dixie Classic Fair gives phony progressives on the City Council an easy opportunity to score points with their constituents. The City of Winston-Salem is firmly in the grasp of local Democrats (a fact not lost on Donny Lambeth). Mayor and the Democratic super-majority (7 of 8) on the City Council could bring about more than symbolic change for the people of Winston if the so desired.

Here is a transcript of Monday’s Dixie Classic Fair debate:

Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe:

“Mayor Joines, Mayor Pro temp Burke, members of the City Council, tonight’s action before you, there’s two parts. The first resolution is a resolution supporting changing the name of the Dixie Classic Fair. If the council approves that resolution, then there will be a subsequent resolution directing staff to develop a process for changing the name and bringing a recommendation back to the mayor and council.”

Councilmember Dan Besse:

“Since so much interest has been expressed in the item I feel like I should explain my vote. When this issue was initially presented to us in city council committee, my first reaction was to hope that we would not have to spend excessive time and energy on a largely symbolic issue when we have so many more immediate problems to address including issues of racial and social inequities from housing to public safety.

That turned out to be a forlorn hope, and I understand that we didn’t help, in that regard, by sending it through two volunteer committees who, frankly, didn’t sign up for that kind of political heat. That’s our job, and now it’s back in front of us, and we have the chance to do it.

I will vote to change the name of the fair. I see no compelling reason to keep the current name. The name, itself, Dixie, has no special connection to Winston-Salem or Forsyth County. It’s widely understood to refer to the American South, generally. With all the associations that raises from hospitality and sweet tea to Jim Crow and the Confederacy, the meaning of the name shapes itself to the experience of the beholder.

But let’s look at the more specific history of our fair, as an institution. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the closing era of official segregation, there were two big fairs in Winston-Salem, the Dixie Classic Fair, and the Carolina Fair. Both were privately run. Dixie Classic was for whites only. Carolina primarily served African-Americans. When the Dixie Classic fair was opened to everyone, in de-segregation, the smaller Carolina fair lost attendance and in a few years closed.

Unfortunately, that was a standard pattern across the South, of that era. From school systems to businesses, and it resulted in the loss of much of the institutional heritage of our African-American community. I saw it in Hickory, where I grew up, and it certainly happened here in Winston-Salem.

When the city of Winston-Salem ended up later owning and running our big fall fair, the Dixie Classic Fair name was retained, unchanged. However, today, in diverse communities like Winston-Salem, we’re working to reclaim the depth and diversity of our heritage. This can be a part of that effort. We can either create an entirely new name for our fair, like the Twin City Fair, or we can reach back into our shared history and create a name that recognizes more than one part of it. Something like Carolina Classic Fair.

This is not about denying or erasing our history. It’s about understanding it and acknowledging the contributions of everyone who helped to build that history. Let’s start by making the policy decision now that we’re going to change the name of our fair to recognize and respect our diverse community.”

Councilmember James Taylor:

“Thank you Mayor. I think out of all the folks who sit here on this council, over the last, I would say, four years or so, I think I received the most feedback, and that puts me in a unique position to just read a statement so that you’ll understand the way I’m going to vote today.

In 2015, I did broach the subject in the committee meeting about the name change. At that particular time, there was an overwhelming response with people in this city or people in this state and even people all over the country. Which, I was trending on every media outlet, and it was just a difficult experience, but they were urging me to reconsider.

At that particular time, I received a lot of angry messages, a lot of death threats, a lot of veiled threats and even though I was concerned for the life of my family and I have three children, that would have never stopped me from supporting this particular item, if the concept had been widely supported by the community, at that particular time.

I do represent the most diverse area of the city. It’s one-third black, one-third white, one-third Hispanic. And what stood out most to me, was even in that situation, there was only a small amount of people, at that time, that supported the name change. Many of my constituents, at that time, Facebooked me, they emailed, they called, and they encouraged me to back off the subject. And many of you know, I did so. I put out a statement that I would no longer pursue the name change, even though I did feel strongly about that particular name change and our ability to leverage the naming rights revenue to address poverty, the need for affordable housing and other issues that we face here in our community.

Four years later, we all know the story, there was some concerned citizens who brought this to the council committee and to the council, for our consideration. I don’t believe that that allows me to change the word I gave four years ago, not to move forward, which with what, I believe, has become a divisive issues in our city. I do stand behind my comments that I made in 2015, supporting the name change, but I also stand by my word, which I think is important. I learned from my father, and I teach that to my children. When a man or woman gives their word, they keep it.

So, I stand by my word, at this particular time, but I also stand by my promise to those constituents to not pursue this further. Even though I know time changes and information changes, my word is important to me and I think that when folks sent me down to city hall, whether that’s a quarry, Salem lake, whether that’s district police office, I have worked really hard to deliver on those things that I said that I would do. I think the only way to do both, keep my word and not stand in the way of progress, is to abstain.

I do understand how an abstention is counted, but I will keep my word, and I urge my colleagues on the council to do what is just and fair for all people in this city.”

Mayor Pro Tempore, Vivian Burke:

“Some years ago, when I was made public safety chair of this city of Winston-Salem, I want you to know I got threats. I got all kinds of telephone calls. In fact, Patrick Harrison, who was head of the NAACP, met with Bill Stewart and said we need to give protection for Mrs. Burke. My husband would stay up until I got home, making sure that I would get home safe. There is records to show that when I said we were going to have a citizen’s review board, they did not want it, some of them but I pushed with citizens, and we got it.

I could have been frightened. I could have been afraid, but when Mayor Corpening, who was the Mayor of this city, appointed me, recommended to the alderman that I be Public Safety Chair, there was a lot of unpleasant things happening in that police department. Relationships of blacks and whites and the kinds of things that were being said and done. When you’re an elected official, I want you to know that sometimes you’ve got to stand up to be counted like a man or woman, that’s why they have us here.

Now, I’m going to say this to you; I could cow down and say, “Oh, I’m not going to do that because…” It’s what you’re doing that makes the difference. We have made decisions on this council that people have not liked, but we made them because it was for the betterment of this city. Not long ago, we looked at the statue. There was some folks that didn’t want that statue bothered with, but a strong stand was made, and the statue was bothered with. I want you who are sitting there to understand clearly, when I was voted to come here to represent this city, the citizens in the Northeast Ward, I promised them that I will sometimes say what you want and sometimes I’ll say what you don’t want to hear, but I want you to know it’ll be something I have prayed about and I have thought about, and I’m not taking lightly. So, we make decisions that are not popular, but they too move forward.”

Councilmember John Larson:

Talk about unpopular decisions. The decision was made without the formal vote of city council maybe six months ago to change the name, and the direction was sent down to the fair committee to provide that new name.

Fact is, we jumped the gun and we didn’t do the second step which involved public input, and fortunately, the fairgrounds committee backed us up a little bit, and we began a process of public review. And out of that, some 11,000 respondents submitted their opinion as to what they think should happen, and the majority of those 86% said they shouldn’t change the name, at all. Now we can quibble, certainly, over where those people came from or whether they were, in fact, citizens of Winston-Salem or Forsyth County and that’s certainly something to think about, but the point was that they felt some investment or some value, in the fair itself.

And sadly, this referendum seems to hinge on a single word rather than the modern rebranding of a fair that possibly could use a serious makeover after 60 years of use. We should not confuse an 1850s Civil War song with a geographical region in the United States, like New England or the Gold Coast. Like other regions, the name is more expansive than any one specific historical aspect that occurred, in that area. For example, we still call it New England in spite of the British coming up the Potomac River and burning the capital, in 1812 war.

Dixie is a name that is deeply embedded, as a unique geographical region and this nation is synonymous with the word, the South, like sweet tea, pork bbq, you heard from Councilmember Besse, terms that we’re familiar with. The application runs the full spectrum from paper products to women’s names. Dixie sugar, dixie cups, we’ve heard it all. Certainly, these are not a celebration of slavery. Expunging the word Dixie from the masthead of the fair, will not remove it from the Southern lexicon, nor will it erase the shameful block of slavery and the subsequent racism and curse that still holds onto this country and in the South, particularly.

To me, it’s entirely different from the monument removal, relocating it from a political form on the courthouse square. The way this has evolved, there is no winning, in my mind. The word has become a wedge and polarization in this community. We are dealing with symbols rather than substance. Tomorrow we will deal with the scar tissue of certain people that feel they lost tonight or certain people that may be felt they win. But we will, hopefully, get on with the deeper rooted problems of jobs, poverty, housing, food deserts, and social injustice. And I hope, more importantly, the folks will come together and go to the fair because it is, in fact, the best experience for the whole family can enjoy. Period. It is the best experience. Thank you.”

Councilmember Denise Adams:

“Mayor. Members of the council, those in attendance, our TV audience, I was kind of under the impression this was going be just a yes or no, up, down. I was also kind of under the impression that my peers would not have commentary, and that would alleviate me having commentary. But, I am now in a position where, because others have spoken, I have to speak, as well.

Again, many of you know I was born and raised in this town 65 years ago. You’ve read in the papers how I couldn’t go to the Dixie Classic Fair. Riding by with my Dad, picking up my Mom, cleaning houses in Buena Vista and we wanted to go because the lights were so bright and pretty, as little kids, and we were like, “Dad, Mommy, we want to go!” They did not have the whatever you call it, in themselves, to tell their children that they could not go because of the color of their skin.

And for those of you that live here, came here, born here, that think that the people in this community that are colored people, that we don’t live under a quiet veil of pain because you don’t understand our pain by these words that matter. You don’t understand when we couldn’t go downtown; there was a colored part of town and a white part of town. And some of y’all know beyond Church Street, we couldn’t go.

I believe, like I told some people who emailed me and left me nasty phone call messages, and text messages, when it’s all said and done like Martin Luther King said, I got to know I stood on the right side, of what’s right and just. If my responsibility to carry the water of those that can’t speak for themselves that understand what the big picture is, for the city. I want you to know that I told somebody in an email that they told me that, “I don’t know what planet you live on, but you need to leave here.” I told him, “I live on this planet. I live in this city. I am not going anywhere.

I will always fight for this city and what is right and just, whether it’s the statue, whether it’s LGBTQ benefits that they didn’t have, whether it’s a pay disparity study, whether it’s minority business not able to get some of the tax dollars, that we spend. I’m going to always lend on them. I told you the other week; I’m going to vote for the change. It’s no different than the person with the mark of a pen. One person decided to change the name of that fair to Dixie Classic. You all act like it’s been this forever.

There are so many fairs in the city of [Winston-Salem and] in this state and not nobody grabbed up Dixie whether it was Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte. Winston-Salem didn’t either. There was one person that decided, with their signature, to change the history of this city. We all know what was going on in 1956; I was born in ’54. So, tonight, Mayor, members of the council, listening audience and those people in attendance and the City of Winston-Salem, I’m voting to change the name!”

Mayor Joines:

“The motion passes, there are four in favor, two nos, and one abstain. Which means there will be five in favor and two nos.”

Public Comments:

“I’d like to, first, extend my thanks to Mr. Larson, to Mr. MacIntosh, for standing up and doing what was right. I appreciate you doing that; it takes guts to stand up against a group of people that sometimes just don’t exercise and do the right things.

We’ve listen… My words really can’t even begin to express my disgust with this council and what you’ve done. Ms. Adams, especially to you, because all I’ve heard from you was “I.” This is not about “I,” this is about the people, and you’ve lost one of the fundamental sights of what government is. It’s not from the leaders to the people, but it’s from the people to the leaders, and that’s how you govern. You’re not doing that.

A majority of the people spoke, and they spoke loud and clear, and you didn’t listen. I just don’t understand. You talk about this brings hurt to you, you brought hurt to a lot of people here, but you don’t care. Our fair is not being changed because it’s a racist name; it’s being changed because we have a group who want to exercise racism on our council. And I think it’s sad; it’s very sad.

Mr. Joines, I come to you, and one comment that was made to me was that the people that came to the meeting at the fair was very organized and I congratulate you on organizing those people. It’s sad that we have a fund, at your discretion that you use that you can employ people to carry out your agenda and in this case, it was the Union Baptist Church. That’s sad too, tax dollars being spent, in that way.

Mr. Besse, I go back to you, and I remember when you wanted to make our city a sanctuary city. You didn’t care about the citizens of Winston-Salem, you would have had the citizens of our community, walking in the feces of illegal immigrants, with no desire. But I thank god that we had a good state legislature and a council there, the Five County Delegations, who stood up and put a stop to it.

And yes sir, I am entitled to my heritage, even though you don’t think that I am. And I intend to exercise it. I intend, also, to exercise a committee to continue looking at the possibility of running for Mayor of this community [laughter in the background]. Because it’s time that we have someone who learns and knows how to listen, thank you.

As an elected official, I’m fair game for comments like that, but I will not sit idly by and let someone besmirk the name of a fine religious leader in this city, the Union Baptist Church. A fund that was mentioned is my salary that I choose not to take, as Mayor of this city, and I choose to give it to organizations to make this city a better place so thank you very much.”    -Kris McCann

Mayor Joines: 

“As an elected official, I’m fair game for comments like that, but I will not sit idly by and let someone besmirk the name of a fine religious leader in this city, and Union Baptist Church [applause]. A fund that was mentioned is my salary that I choose not to take, as Mayor of this city, and I choose to give it to organizations to make this city a better place so thank you very much [applause].”

“Thank you Mayor. Thank you to the City Council members. Thank you to council member DD Adams. Thank you for standing up. Thank you so much. I represent Union Baptist Church, my pastor could not be here today because of surgery, but I just want to thank you for the name change because I think this is a great time to do this, to bring collaborative efforts together. Our church is a community church. We put on programs that help the community so thank you Mayor for seeing that and investing your money where it counts. We have programs that help drug dealers, people on drugs get off drugs, so we are a community church. We have integrity, and so we thank the council members for recognizing that. We thank you for doing what’s right, in this community to bring it together and not bring division and separate us. So changing the name that’s more conducive to what we represent, I appreciate it. I thank you, and that’s all I have to say. Thank you.” -Brenda Formore

“Good evening to this wonderful council, to our mayor of the city, we appreciate you. To the wonderful and awesome citizens of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I do bring you greetings from Union Baptist Church and let me say Bishop Matt could not be here because he is recovering from a surgery but let me just say, I think this council for making the right choice today.

As a young adult, who moved to this city, all the way from a small town of Clayton, North Carolina, down east. I moved to this city, went to Winston-Salem State University, graduated there, went to Wake Forest University, graduated there. Winston-Salem is now my home. I believe the city has made the right choice today because we are a growing city and we can change downtown. I’ve been here for almost 17 years. Downtown looks very different than when I first moved here, and if we can make the changes to fit this community, I know that what you did today will only help build this community.

Let me say Union Baptist Church, is a community church. We thank the city for partnering with us, helping us with our program such as the Youth Character Football League, YCFL, where we tackle topics like childhood obesity. Where we tackle topics like the educational gaps and we help bridge families to come to play together at our football league on Saturday, or even grandmas can come and feel safe. It’s a great program. Our C2C, Corner to Corner, drug dealers and street life conference, a major conference that’s been nationwide. We help persons who are dealing with drug addictions, street life. Let them know that the church cares.

We thank the city for helping us do that, partnering. That’s the history of the church. The church and the city comes together to make the city better. Thank you so much, this wonderful council who does that to us, for us, every time we call. You show up, you’re there, and the people see you. Thank you so much and again, thank you for making the choice to change the name, we appreciate that, and we stand behind this council. I know it was a tough decision but just know we support you, thank you.”   -Dr. Kia Hood-Scott

“Bishop Todd Fulton, representing the Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity. I’m the Social Justice Chair. I want to thank you, Mayor Joines, Mayor Burke-Protemp and city council members who had the intense fortitude to stand up for what was right. I knew everything would be okay when I heard the thunder because that was heaven applauding you for doing what’s right.

We say to our neighbors in Winston-Salem, well before I say that my daughter asked me on the way here, she’s a school teacher at a Forsyth County school. She said, “Daddy, don’t y’all have anything better to do with all the problems that we have in Forsyth County?” And I said, “Yes, baby so many issues that we have to fight.” But I said, “But what you don’t understand is that I’m standing on the shoulders of my fore-parents and they are expecting me and others to do what’s right.

So we say to our neighbors if you want to name your dog Dixie, have at it. If you want to name your cat Dixie, that’s cool with me. If you want to name your goldfish Dixie, congratulations but no longer will we pay our taxpayer dollars, in Winston-Salem, to deal with the pain and the hurt. God bless Winston-Salem and god bless the City Council for making the right decisions. Thank you.” -Todd Fulton

“I’m very proud of a couple people here that stood up to the majority. This is an issue, as a minority myself, I relate to not being allowed to go to the fair because I wasn’t of a certain persuasion, I wasn’t a Christian. I also remember my parents being told that my brother couldn’t go to Wake Forest because we were Jewish. Also, I don’t have any issue. I’ve never had an issue with the name, proud to live in the south, nothing wrong with it. I disagree with Mr. Besse. I disagree with Ms. Adams. I think y’all have caused a divisive wedge that’s even greater than the wedge that’s happened before. Now, we’ve made it worse. I think there will be a political price to pay. I think the folks, out there, who are incensed need to stand up and run.

I know that a lot of folks here have worked hard for the good of the city, including you, Mr. Mayor, you’ve worked hard. We’ve worked hard to build downtown. We’ve done a lot of good things in this city. But this is a bad business decision. This will make the fair, in Winston-Salem, become one of the smallest fairs because people will stay away. It could give a license to the current midway operator to back out and go somewhere else and for us to become the smallest fair in the country. Business should prevail.

I am not of the belief that the name should have been changed. I don’t harbor anything about it, and I’m a victim of discrimination myself, but you know what I don’t carry that. I don’t live with that. I live with moving forward. My mom and daddy had that business down there, never had a segregated place, never had a segregated bathroom. We never had segregated water fountains. We opened our business to everybody.

But you know what, we accepted what the heritage of the city was. And that’s the way we’ve always lived it and why change it because of a few people when the vast majority don’t want it changed, and there were people of color who even spoke out against changing it because it’s just tradition. It’s like a Ford and a Chevrolet. You don’t change the name of it because you don’t like the name. You just change the brand if you don’t want to drive a Ford, you drive a Chevrolet.

So in concluding, Mr. Mayor, council members, I think it’s the wrong decision. I think there will be a political price to pay next year and I think it’s bad business and a lot of people are not going to change their opinion about it. Anyway, and what you do with your salary, Mr. Mayor, is up to you, it’s fine with me. That’s everybody’s right. Thank you very much, ladies and gentleman, goodnight.” –Richard Miller

“I want to thank two people for standing up and keeping the name Dixie. It doesn’t really matter that much to me on name, I just look at it as a heritage thing but you know, everything that was done to the black race was done by the Democratic party, and so I guess if you’re saying that’s part of the Democratic party I guess we need to change that history too. Y’all are loving to change all of the history and everything but anyway that don’t involve me because all this poll tax and all this fair stuff that was all done by your brethren the Democrats.

But I would ask one thing, I’ve heard, disturbingly, some people say the fair should just be Winston-Salem. Well, if the fair’s just going to be Winston-Salem, you’re going to lose money. I mean, if you go to the fair and you see that area, it’s North West, North Carolina, okay?

So, all I would ask that is since you had changed the name, keep in mind, there are, if you want anybody really to show up and I’m aware Surry County has a fair but a lot of those people love to come down to the fair but if you name it something that’s inclusive like Winston-Salem, you’re going to turn a lot of people off, that would normally come. So, all I can say is keep that in mind. It is money.

My tax dollars might be involved in this if y’all bond and this state starts losing money. I can barely pay my taxes as it is, I’m not rich like most of y’all. Especially the mayor, I don’t have $300,000 in an account just sitting there, spitting it out. So, I just ask that you keep us middle class, lower-middle class, people in mind. If you raise taxes too much, you’re going to be hurting a lot of poor people. And I know they aren’t going to appreciate that. So, the fair can lose money just like it can make money, so keep that in mind.

And my area right now is a disaster out there because of the bridge being built, but hopefully, that will get taken care of, eventually. But, I would just like to say that I think it’s important to keep in mind that the name Dixie was associated with North West North Carolina as an area, at least that was what I was told, being brought up, lived here all my life. So, just keep that in mind, if you want to keep it North West North Carolina, I would advise you doing that, at least from a financial standpoint, thank you. –James Knox

“Our thirty minutes is up. I’m sorry to the few other people on here but our time is up here, so thank you all. I’ll close the public comment period.” -Mayor Joines

Meeting Adjourned

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