DIXIE, Calif. (KTVU) - After months of turmoil, a Marin County school district decided to delay choosing a new name, to replace one more than 150 years old.
The Dixie Elementary School District comprises just four schools and about 2,000 students at the north end of San Rafael.
Tuesday evening's hearing was expected to settle the issue, with 13 new names submitted by petition, and awaiting action.
Had the five-member board selected one, the name Dixie would have died by default.
But during a two-hour discussion, the board couldn't agree on a name swap, even after eliminating several winnowing the list.
Several board members were uncomfortable making the choice, without allowing the school community to voice their preferences.
"You want to change this word, Dixie, why not all the other words?" posed Jerry Moore, before the meeting. "How about Dixie cups, have they ever raised an issue about Dixie cups?"
Because the name issue has attracted crowds and confrontations in the past, the hearing was held in
the gymnasium at Miller Creek Middle School in Marinwood.
More than 300 people listened and participated during three hours of public comment.
"Dixie is not a racist word," Moore told people entering the gym. "There are 8,000 black women in America right now, named Dixie, that's from the census bureau."
Opponents of the Dixie name lined the entrance to the meeting, singing hymns and Civil Rights era songs.
It has been a tumultuous issue for the school board for months.
The name dates to 1864, when the district's first school house was built, during the racism and slavery of the Civil War era.
"Those divides were not tolerable then, and as an African-American woman, it is not tolerable now," said speaker Oshalla-Diana Marcus, "and what I find offensive is that we're even talking about this."
Dixie supporters insist the school community is welcoming and inclusive- and should not apologize for its name.
"I have a warm feeling about the name Dixie," said speaker Pat Long. "It makes me think about evenings in the summer, neighbors on the lawn, and kids running around catching fireflies."
Law requires possible replacement names be reviewed and acted on within 40 days of their submission, which provoked the meeting.
"We have burial grounds here, my ancestors are buried here," exclaimed speaker Marge Grow-Eppard, a member of the Miwok tribe, who claims a relative from the pioneer days, Mary Dixie.
Mary Dixie Elementary School District was among the new names suggested.
"And now you say her name is racist?" challenged Grow-Eppard, "and we've offended you because our last name is Dixie? Our last name was Dixie before there was ever a Civil War, how dare you."
Some speakers asked the board to slow the process, claiming the process has been instigated by a few activists, instead of evolving naturally.
"We've had hijacked board meetings, online smear campaigns, and personal threats," complained speaker Jessica Freilich, " neighbor against neighbor, and people too intimidated to speak up."
The head of San Francisco's NAACP lso addressed the board.
"I'm here as a member of the human family," said Rev. Amos Brown, "and this is a "we" thing. My teacher and friend the late Dr. Martin Luther King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Several students from the district spoke as well.
"A racist word has no place here," said Dylan Gibson,13, " and I believe with the word gone, we can make progress toward a closer community free of hate."
At least three of the five board members voiced willingness to drop the Dixie name, but it must happen in conjunction with choosing a new name, and the process and timeline for that remains uncertain.