History of Dixie School District's Name

“After reviewing the historical documents compiled by Change The Name (www.changethename.net) advocates, as well as a number of supplementary sources, it is my conclusion that the organization’s account and characterization of the historical origins of the Dixie School District’s name are accurate.” — Chiyuma Elliott, Assistant Professor, African American Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Read Professor Elliott’s full evaluation.

The Old Dixie Schoolhouse Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, states the school district was named after the Confederacy.

In 1972, the Dixie Schoolhouse Foundation submitted an application to the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service to get the old Dixie Schoolhouse added to the National Registry of Historical Places. The document submitted by Old Dixie Schoolhouse Foundation states that the name “Dixie” was a direct reference to the nickname given to the Confederate States of America.

In their application, they wrote, “Mrs. Leitz (Mrs. Frances Miller Leits, daughter of Bernard Miller and granddaughter of James Miller) also uncovered the origin of the school's name when she stated that her grandfather, not being a man to turn down a challenge, named the building on a dare. Marin County, in 1864, was hotly pro-Northern, and the fact that several "gentlemen" from the South helped construct the first schoolhouse prompted someone to dare James Miller to name the school "Dixie." He did. Thus Dixie opened in March of 1864.”

Miller’s great great grandson, Lucien Miller, confirms the origin of the name “Dixie” in an oral history archived in the California Room of the Marin County Library. Lucien Miller stated, “And [James Miller] was a democrat and there was a lot of sympathy of Irish democrats towards the South…I was glad that a few years ago there was somebody that wanted to change the name of the school because that was so outrageous.”

In the 1860s, people knew that the Dixie School District was named after the Confederacy.

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 and that the name was “ominous.” In the December 11, 1863 edition of the Red Bluff Independent, the newspaper wrote the following in response to the establishment of the Dixie School District:

“It is supposed, by the ominous name, that the young ideas are here to be “trained how to shoot” you. 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 Dixie School District area was a Democratic Pro-Confederate stronghold during the civil war.

An article in the Marin Journal newspaper from June 4, 1891 states, “The precinct or district itself (current area that includes the Dixie School District) has always been a Democratic stronghold, at some of the elections the entire vote polled being Democratic. During wartimes the district was called Dixie by the Republicans in derision, and the name clung to it ever since.”

During the Civil War, the Democratic Party was pro-slavery. The Democratic Party supported racial segregation and worse after the Civil War. The Republican Party at that time was the party of Lincoln, and anti-slavery.

Lincoln won the 1860 and 1864 presidential elections as a Republican. The voters who lived in the precincts in and around the Dixie School District voted for the pro-slavery Democratic presidential candidates, Breckinridge in 1860 and McLellan in 1864.

James Miller’s great great grandson stated in his oral history that James Miller was a Democrat and, “he always had Southern sympathies.” William J. Miller, James’s eldest son, was a leader of the Democratic Party Committee  in Marin. In 1869, William J. Miller was elected to the California State Assembly as a Democrat to represent the 10th district. Prior to Miller’s election, Assemblymember A.C. McAlister represented the district as a member of the Democratic Party.

today, dixie is a synonym for the confederate south.

Song for a Dark Girl by Langston Hughes

Way Down South in Dixie
(Break the heart of me)
They hung my black young lover
To a cross roads tree.

Way Down South in Dixie
(Bruised body high in air)
I asked the white Lord Jesus
What was the use of prayer.

Way Down South in Dixie
(Break the heart of me)
Love is a naked shadow
On a gnarled and naked tree.

One Way Ticket by Langston Hughes

I pick up my life, And take it with me, 
And I put it down in Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Scranton, 
Any place that is North and East, And not Dixie.

I pick up my life And take it on the train, 
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake
Any place that is North and West, And not South.

I am fed up With Jim Crow laws, 
People who are cruel And afraid, Who lynch and run, 
Who are scared of me And me of them
I pick up my life And take it away On a one-way ticket
Gone up North Gone out West Gone!

The struggle to change the name of Dixie School District has been ongoing for 29 years.

Bruce Anderson, a Marinwood resident, started asking questions about the Dixie name in 1989 on the first day of school for his child at Dixie Elementary School. In 1997, Kerry Peirson, former Chair of the Marin Human Rights Commission and former Marin Community Foundation trustee, launched the  community campaign when he testified on behalf of a name change at a Dixie School Board meeting. He was called a “gorilla” inside the boardroom. He says it was one of the most terrifying nights of his life.

Name change advocates offered to pay for the name change in 2003.

In 2003, then Dixie School Board Trustee Karen Crockett and a group of parents, proposed a new district name. The cost was estimated to be $7,500. A nonprofit organization sent a check to the Superintendent to cover 100% of the expenses related to the name change.  We expect the updated cost information to be presented at a public meeting of the Dixie School District Board of Trustees in October or November 2018.

What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.
— Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust Survivor