'Dixie' Chicks no more: As Confederacy loses its luster, bands and brands rush to abandon its symbols

·Editor

On Thursday, the Grammy Award-winning country trio the Dixie Chicks announced they had dropped the word “Dixie” from their name.

“We want to meet this moment,” the group, now known just as the Chicks, said in a message posted to its website that accompanied the release of a new song and video praising young protesters.

“Dixie” is the nickname for states south of the Mason-Dixon Line that seceded from the Union in 1861 over slavery.

The move by the band, which follows weeks of demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, is the latest instance of a nationwide move to abandon symbols of the Confederacy, African slavery and Jim Crow.

Another popular country band, Lady Antebellum, shortened its name earlier this month, changing “Antebellum,” which refers to the era before the Civil War, to simply “A.”

In a statement to fans explaining the name change, the band said it was “regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery.”

Quaker Oats, the company that makes Aunt Jemima brand pancake mix and syrup, which bears the image of a Black woman, said it would rebrand the products.

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kirstin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a press release last week. “As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”

Aunt Jemima brand syrup. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Aunt Jemima brand syrup. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Other brands, including Uncle Ben’s rice, Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake mix and syrup, and Cream of Wheat porridge, also plan to replace existing packaging due to associations with demeaning racial stereotypes.

“Aunt” and “Uncle” were titles white Southerners often applied to older Black people — in order, some authorities say, to avoid addressing them as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”

The changes taking place extend far beyond product marketing. Two days after race car driver Bubba Wallace, who is African-American, voiced support for banning the Confederate flag at NASCAR events, the Daytona Beach, Fla., stock car racing company complied.

“The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

Statues of Confederate icons like Jefferson Davis; Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan; and Gen. Robert E. Lee have been defaced in recent weeks, and many have been either scheduled for removal or ripped from their pedestals.

Mississippi lawmakers face renewed pressure to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag. Walmart announced this week that it would stop displaying the state flag at its 85 stores there.

“We believe it’s the right thing to do,” the company said in a statement that came five years after it banned the sale of items in its stores that included a Confederate flag.

The backlash over Mississippi’s flag, the only remaining state emblem to include a vestige of the Confederacy, has also extended to the world of sports. Both the NCAA and the SEC conference announced this month that until the emblem is removed from the flag, they would not hold post-season events of any kind in the state.

The flag of the state of Mississippi. (Brandon Dill for the Washington Post via Getty Images)
The flag of the state of Mississippi. (Brandon Dill for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

President Trump has so far resisted renaming Army bases such as North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Texas’s Fort Hood and Virginia’s Fort A.P. Hill, all of which were named after Confederate military commanders.

“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a great American Heritage,” the president tweeted last week.

That defense echoes the “heritage not hate” explanation that defenders of the Confederate flag and monuments to soldiers many Americans consider traitors have often invoked. It has long been used to maintain a status quo enacted after the South’s defeat in the Civil War over the complaints of those whose ancestors were enslaved.

As the Dixie Chicks’ name revision illustrates, the remembrance of old Dixie, even if tongue-in-cheek, has faced a reckoning. But while corporate America seems eager to get on board, the display of Confederate flags by fans outside last weekend’s NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Ala., showed that moving on from the past is not easy. The struggle over symbols has been ongoing for decades.

The song “Dixie,” for instance, emerged as a popular tune via the minstrel show circuit, in which white singers performed in blackface, and was adopted as the unofficial national anthem of the Confederate states during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was also fond of the melody, and had it played when Lee announced his surrender.

First penned in the 1850s by Daniel Decatur, a native of Ohio, the lyrics of the song changed over time, starting with a crass white approximation of Black dialect that romanticized the antebellum South. Throughout the Civil War, soldiers from the South as well as the North wrote their own, diametrically opposed lyrical interpretations that either mocked the South or enshrined it.

While the lyrics evolved into standard English, the nostalgic sentiment at the heart of the original song remained in the first verse: “I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten.”

That nostalgic tribute to the antebellum South was banned at sporting events by the University of Mississippi, whose nickname remains Ole Miss, in 2016.

“Because the Pride of the South is such a large part of our overall experience and tradition, the Athletics Department asked them to create a new and modern pregame show that does not include ‘Dixie’ and is more inclusive for all fans,” the school’s athletic department said at the time in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

Cover photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

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