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Renaming The Dixie Classic Fair


The Dixie Classic Fair in North Carolina wraps up tomorrow, and it's the last year it will go by that name. City officials in Winston-Salem voted to rename the event because, for some, Dixie evokes images of slavery and segregation. Keri Brown with member station WFDD reports.

KERI BROWN, BYLINE: The Southern-themed name has been part of the Dixie Classic Fair since 1956. The grandstand near its entrance is a popular spot for entertainment. But this year, it's getting even more attention.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: They're going to have to paint the wall on the grandstand. It says Dixie Classic Fair. It's been there forever.

BROWN: People are taking selfies underneath the vintage-looking sign. Nearby, a souvenir booth only has a few items left. Michael Gross drove all the way from New York just to say goodbye.

MICHAEL GROSS: The name means, like, a lot. I mean, it's really heartbreaking. And, I mean, I think back to, like, my mom picking me up for half days of school because we have a cookie competition we have to get to, and we have to do it. So I mean, it is. It almost brings a tear to my eye, like, thinking that it's going to be different.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Fresh-roasted, fresh-squeezed.

BROWN: Attendance and merchandise sales have been breaking records this year. The city of Winston-Salem took down a Confederate statue in March and then moved to rename this event. Tensions ran high during a public meeting on the issue. Thousands responded to a survey. Most people wanted to keep Dixie in the fair's name, but local resident Maya Gilliam says it needed a change.

MAYA GILLIAM: It represents the Confederate flag. It represents white supremacy in general, the KKK. So I think it's important now that, you know, even though the world has grown, we still need to make sure the different symbols change as well because they hold energy.

BROWN: The switch has been the talk of this year's fair, even for Pastor Willie Hawkins, who says the issue is complicated. Hawkins is black and says people are going overboard.

WILLIE HAWKINS: If you're going to get rid of the name of the fair because it's Dixie, the next thing you're going to get rid of the Dixie cups and Dixie plates, Mason-Dixon Line. It's part of history. This has to stop somewhere.

BROWN: Winston-Salem isn't the only community dealing with this. In Northern California, the Dixie School District board voted this year to change the name of the 150-year-old school system. The term Dixie is synonymous with describing the geographic area of the South and was used in a song by the Confederacy during the Civil War.

BILL FERRIS: In the South, the past is never dead. It's not even past. And how we memorialize and evoke the past is constantly a challenge.

BROWN: That's Southern folklorist Bill Ferris. He says the word has evolved over time, and communities should embrace these healthy conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Game 2. Game 2. Need a...

BROWN: Back at the Dixie Classic Fair, Joshua Hostetter was with his 3-year-old son. He says visiting this place has been an annual tradition since he was a kid.

JOSHUA HOSTETTER: I'm going to miss it - it's - to be honest, because it is what I grew up with, calling it the Dixie Classic Fair. And I feel like I can see both sides of things, being interracial and whatnot, so - but if it bothers some people, I don't want to be insensitive to the way people feel about things.

BROWN: Hostetter says the change will be hard to get used to, but he's looking forward to making new memories with his family. What the fair will be called next year hasn't been decided.

For NPR News, I'm Keri Brown in Winston-Salem, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Keri Brown is a reporter and host at WFDD. She comes to the Triad from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, where she served as the Chief Bureau Reporter for the Northern Panhandle. Prior to her time at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Keri was the head assignment editor at WTRF-TV in Wheeling and a field producer and assignment manager at WPGH Fox 53 in Pittsburgh. She is a graduate of Ohio University.