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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, July 10, 2020

Rogers column: Two steps forward, one slip back in the heart of ole Dixie




Against my better judgment, I find myself reluctantly listening to certain arguments against scrapping monuments, statues, building names and such perceived to be racist: the “slippery slope” theory.

I blame the Dixie Chicks.

They are now just “the Chicks,” having shed “Dixie” with little comment other than “We want to meet this moment” on the band’s new website.

I’ve never been fan or foe of the group and couldn’t name a single song it’s recorded. But I am a fan of Dixie, as a concept signifying “the South.”

And, more important, home.

I even wrote a column https://www.gulflive.com/mississippi-press-living/2014/11/joe_rogers_the_al lure_and_myst.html a while back extolling the term and exploring how it came about. (Short version: Various theories exist, but no one knows for sure.)

Not long after reading about the Dixieless Chicks, I learned more disturbing news: the owners of Dixie Beer, a New Orleans staple, are planning to change the name to ... something else. Not yet decided.

“As New Orleans, and our country, continue to evolve we find it necessary to reflect on the role our brewery can play in making our home more united, strong and resilient for future generations,” a statement on the company website reads.

Dixie is not my favorite beer. But whenever I go to New Orleans, I feel duty-bound to consume it. So long as it’s cold enough, it’s entirely ... drinkable. And taken in sufficient quantities, it already leaves me feeling united, strong and resilient.

But so it goes. I’m now bracing for news about Dixie Cups.

I don’t mean to make light of the current national conversation, long overdue, to address very real racial disparities and outrages in our country. For one thing, we need to take a hard look at and make substantial changes in the way policing and the justice system in general too often amount to state-sponsored war on Blacks and other minorities.

It also seems reasonable to suggest that United States military bases not be named for Confederate officers who led combat against the United States. It seems absurd, in fact, that some are.

I also support symbolic efforts, such as the decision to relocate a monument to Confederate soldiers on the campus of my alma mater, Ole Miss, to a more appropriate setting: a nearby Confederate cemetery. And I support the push to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Tennessee Capitol.

But here’s an example of the slippery slope: There’s a Forrest Avenue in my relatively liberal neighborhood. That fact has recently thrown some folks into a dither, worried that it might have been named to honor that much-maligned Confederate general.

Diligent study of historical maps turned up the finding that the original name was Forest, as in a group of trees, and that the additional R probably cropped up over the years simply as a misspelling.

Still, some found the mere possibility of anyone making an unsavory connection reason enough to try to change the signs.

On the national scale we’ve also seen, in an excess of misguided zeal, suggestions that public memorials to founding fathers such as Washington and Jefferson be done away with because they were slaveholders.

Or “amoral monsters” as a columnist in one of my former newspapers recently described them.

I’d argue there is a very real distinction between Washington and Jefferson and, say, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Just as it’s possible to drink a Southern-named beer without hankering to return to the 1850s. Yet we slip-slide away.

A footnote on symbols: As you probably know, Mississippi legislators recently voted overwhelmingly to retire the state flag which, for 124 years, included the Confederate battle flag in the canton.

Though it should have been done decades ago, the fact that it was done even now is no small feat. My progressive friends have been celebrating. One tweeted before the change that he “would prefer a dirty washcloth to our current flag.”

I appreciate the sentiment and would be celebrating, too, except: To gather sufficient support to dump the old flag, a political bone had to be offered to its defenders: Any new version must include the words “In God We Trust.”

Thus demonstrating the unofficial state motto: Two steps forward, one step back.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.