Thursday, August 18, 2005

To hear some newcomers to Hanover County, Virginia, tell it, “Dixie” is a five-letter four-letter word.

They want to change the county’s annual Civil War commemoration from “Dixie Days” to something else, to avoid, among other things, offending Yankees who have moved into the county.

Dixie cups are probably OK, concedes one county official, but not “Dixie” that reminds everyone of, well, the South.

Jamelle Wilson, a member of an advisory panel reviewing the annual event, told a public gathering earlier this month that “Dixie Days” is “problematic” and that calling a Civil War commemoration by that name “tends to represent the past.” If “Dixie” remains, the county schools shouldn’t promote or endorse it, she said.

But a war, so far fairly civil, is brewing.

Grayson Jennings, commander of the Cold Harbor Guards Camp division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans of Virginia, would rather hold the commemoration on private property or even outside Hanover County, than change the name from Dixie Days.

“It’s our event. We can call it what we want,” Mr. Jennings says. “This is our heritage. We are not changing the name.”

The advisory panel has suggested three new names, including “Civil War Days.”

Some residents, county officials say, find “Dixie Days” offensive and a symbol of slavery and racism.

“The Hanover County community is changing rapidly with many newcomers that may be offended by the name,” Ms. Wilson said.

The 18-member advisory panel, which does not have the final say on the event’s title, has invited organizers to testify at a meeting Sept. 26. The county’s Parks and Recreation Department will make a decision in January after organizers submit their application to hold Dixie Days in 2006.

The panel, made up of county residents and county government and school officials, asked another group to change the title of its event for a minor technical reason.

Brad Ashley, director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, says organizers of the “Hanover Tomato Festival and Heritage Day” changed its name to the “Hanover Tomato Festival” because they still celebrate tomatoes but no longer celebrate their heritage.

This year, Dixie Days was held the first weekend in May in the county’s Pole Green Park. It featured heritage booths for children and a re-enactment of the Battle of Bethesda Church.

Mr. Jennings, the descendant of two Confederate soldiers, says Dixie Days was “a place for the local kids to come and celebrate their Southern heritage.”

The advisory panel says the event shouldn’t be allowed in a county park if the name remains, because some people say it can be “offensive, misinterpreted and problematic” and opens an “opportunity for media to create controversy.”

The panel reviews all events and offers suggestions on how to improve them for the next year. The panel praised organizers for drawing more than 11,000 people to this year’s commemoration. The county has no say in what events are called on private property.

Panel members suggested the name be changed to “Blue and Gray Days,” “Civil War Days” or “Battle of Bethesda Church.”

But this might be problematic, too — the Union Army wore blue and the Confederate Army wore gray.

“I guess [the panel] wants us to accommodate all the Yankees,” Mr. Jennings said. “If they want to live down here, they need to adapt to our lifestyle.”

Hanover County Supervisor Timothy E. Ernst says the county, located just north of Richmond, must be sensitive to the “diverse community.” The area was the scene of several bloody Civil War battles and was a crucial station on the so-called Underground Railroad, which enabled many slaves to escape to freedom in the North.

“‘Dixie Days’ is an example of the wounds that are still very sensitive to ancestors of the Confederate war, which we can also call the great unpleasantness,” Mr. Ernst says. “Many black families in the county see that as a celebration of the institution of slavery and see that as degrading to them and it opens old wounds.”

The origins of the word “Dixie” are somewhat obscure, but most authorities agree that it was taken from the $10 bank note issued before the war by banks in New Orleans, when French was widely spoken. The notes were called “dixies” for the French word for “10,” and because the notes were widely circulated in the South, the term was eventually applied to the region.

The word was later popularized by Daniel D. Emmett, an Ohio minstrel, when he wrote the song “Dixie Land” in 1859. Abraham Lincoln often asked his band to play the tune.

County Supervisor Aubrey M. Stanley Jr. is one county official who doesn’t want to change the name.

“I have no problem with it being called ‘Dixie Days,’” he said. “What, we can’t call Indians ‘Indians,’ right?”

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