SAN RAFAEL, Calif. – There's a battle brewing in Dixie ... California.
Officials in a city north of San Francisco have refused for now to change the 150-year-old name of the Dixie School District, despite criticism from some who say it evokes the Confederacy and slavery.
After more than five hours of sometimes heated public comment, school officials Tuesday sided with supporters of keeping the name, who say it honors a Native American woman named Mary Dixie.
Those pushing for a name change offered 13 options for changing it to something else, saying the district got its name on dare from Confederate sympathizers. Among the new names were "Marie Dixie Elementary School District" and "Skywalker Elementary School District."
The issue generated weeks of heated online debate in San Rafael, an overwhelmingly white city of 59,000, with some insisting the Dixie name is racially insensitive while others complained of political correctness run amok.
Patrick Nissim, an alumnus of district schools, said he did not "subscribe to the idea that everyone who wants to keep the name is racist, but added a name change "is not an indictment of this district. Changing the name is simply the next free chapter of this district's history — it is a lesson in empathy."
Marge Grow Eppard, a member of the Miwok tribe who said her family name is Dixie, said she "did not realize my family's name was so offensive," ''I don't see no Confederate flags here ... You're going to change Mary Dixie's name, you dishonor all of us."
A majority of school board members said they supported changing the name, but were concerned the process seemed rushed and needed more community input, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Dixie is a nickname for the southern U.S. states that broke off to form the pro-slavery Confederacy in 1860, sparking the Civil War. The legacy of the Confederacy continues to spark political, legal and cultural battles to this day.
James Miller donated land for the first schoolhouse. Those who support changing the name say the district was named Dixie by Miller on a dare by Confederate sympathizers. Those who oppose the change say the school system was named for a Miwok Indian woman who Miller knew in the 1840s.
Opponents contend the school board agreed in November to put the name-change issue to a nonbinding community vote in 2020 and that it should stick with that decision.
Board President Brad Honsberger urged speakers to remain diplomatic.
"The political world these days seems charged and disrespectful, including hateful comments and blaming others," Honsberger said. "Dixie has the opportunity to demonstrate how discourse can be respectful, courteous and accepting."