MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - An overflow crowd Tuesday night urged school trustees in San Rafael to ditch the name "Dixie."
The four-school elementary district has grappled with the name for decades, turning away at least three efforts over the past thirty years to change it.
"Fighting racism is an action, it's not an idea, this is an incredible teaching moment for our kids," said one woman, her voice breaking, "and as a black person in a predominantly white community, I need you, we need you, to put yourself on the line for all of us."
The Dixie Elementary district was named in the late 1800's, shortly after the Civil War, and is a nickname for the southern states.
"It's a connotation with the South, the Civil War, slavery and that's really not something our school district should stand for," said parent Phillip Simon, who followed his 10 year old daughter Molly to the podium during public comment.
"I love my school and I would like to feel proud to wear my school tee shirt," said Molly, "but I am honestly ashamed that my school is named this. I know this name is not right."
For several hours, speakers implored the district trustees to change the name as soon as possible, not wait for a ballot measure to assess opinion.
"When you do that, you're really kind of putting the humanity and the dignity of people up for a vote, and I really don't think that's right," said one man, to applause.
Supporters of the change say they have almost 2,000 petition signatures on Changethename.net in support.
Tuesday morning, on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr, they presented petitions to the district, submitting a dozen new names as possible replacements.
They are also encouraged that the Marin Community Foundation, a philanthropic group, has offered to pay all the costs of changing signs, buses, logos and documents, estimated at $20,000 or more.
"We gave you petitions today to move forward with a name change," said "Change the Name" Bruce Anderson,"and now the cost element is gone, and all that's in front of you is a racist name that needs to be changed."
Once the petitions are reviewed and validated, the board must hold a public hearing and take a public vote within 40 days.
Among the suggested new names: Big Rock, John Muir, Live Oak, Miller Creek, Miwok and several others.
Some observers are urging the choice be made after a deliberative process. .
"The last thing you'd want to do is replace one offensive name with another offensive name," said Alex Stadtner," so I would encourage you to hear all sides."
Supporters of the Dixie name are also active, collecting hundreds of signatures on their own petitions, arguing a switch is an unnecessary waste of money.
"What are the benefits achieved by this change?" posed speaker Doug Charleton, whose wife and children attended Dixie schools.
"We know the Dixie song very well, we know the lion mascot very well. And I don't think we carry any guilt in our family associated with the name Dixie."
The school board president reminded the crowd, the items on the the agenda dealt solely with the costs and process of changing the name.
"We are not here to discuss whether or not to change the name," he clarified at the outset, bracing for a long and emotional session.
"We need a way to talk about this, because the dialogue on online forums has become horrendous," said speaker Teri Bleiweiss, urging a mediator enter the process. "The community is fractured and we need a pathway to heal."
The Dixie Unified School District has no African American teachers, and a student body that is only 3 percent black.
If a name change is put up for a public vote, it would be advisory, not binding, on the five-member school board.