Dr. Fred Cubbage | Guest Columnist
The right on Black Lives Matter movement and protests have begun to provoke deserved and overdue changes throughout the U.S. and the South. Inappropriate statues are falling; racial discrimination and social justice have become recognized more and cities and universities are removing tainted racist and Confederate statues and names from memorials and buildings.
Massive changes have occurred to remove symbols of institutional racism in recent years, and in the weeks since George Floyd was killed. Nikki Haley and the conservative legislature in South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its capitol grounds in 2015; Duke University removed Robert E. Lee statue from its chapel in 2018; UNC removed the toppled Silent Sam in 2018; Clemson just removed the name of zealous slavery advocate John C. Calhoun from its honors program. Virginia and Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, are planning to remove Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue; NASCAR banned Confederate flags, and Mississippi just voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag.
Meanwhile, the NCSU Board of Trustees just voted to rename Daniels Hall. However—despite plentiful official programs, memoranda, and platitudes about diversity, inclusion, and racial justice—NC State University is still singing Dixie in its Alma Mater song. The song starts with:
“Where the winds of Dixie softly blow o’er the fields of Caroline…”
Dixie was reputedly played at Fort Sumter when the Civil War started; became the unofficial Confederate national anthem and rebel fight song, and remains the definitive rallying slogan for white supremacists since 1860.
Yet Dixie is imbued throughout NC State University, despite years of requests for change. Our undergrads state that they are taught the Alma Mater at orientation. I have been told by NCSU sports fans that the song is played at our major sports events. NCSU apparently has the Alma Mater clip with the word Dixie enshrined on its newly renovated (2015) Talley Student Center. Every commencement at NC State has been closed with the “Grains of Time” choir singing about the winds of Dixie. We apparently start, reinforce, and end our lessons at NCSU insidiously tinged with racism.
In order to remove Dixie from NCSU, after emotional discussions in 2016, the Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution proposed by two African American women faculty that requested that the Alma Mater be reworded, which was ignored. Periodic calls for removing Dixie have occurred since, including by Jackie Gonzalez, a Hispanic who was student body president in 2017. In 2018, we had two African American women keynote speakers at the NCSU December graduation—Christine Mann Darden, a leader of sonic boom research at NASA, and the student speaker, Lindsay McMillian. Commencement was then closed with singing about the winds of Dixie. This prompted me to ask the Chancellor to remove Dixie at the March 2019 General Faculty meeting, and he demurred, saying he had no authority in the matter, which was what he said in 2016 as well. Graduate students have asked for similar actions of NCSU diversity leaders, with no success.
So, in the last five years, many universities, cities, and states have removed prima facie evidence of institutional racism and its trappings. In that same time, every request to remove obvious racist language at NCSU has been stonewalled. One would hope that the last month of strife aimed at stopping racial injustice may prompt even NCSU leaders to change their tune regarding Dixie.
The bitter irony and hypocrisy here are obvious. Words do matter; that is what we teach at NCSU, and elsewhere. So do Black Lives, and Brown ones for that matter. These grains of institutional racism at NCSU should be eliminated from our Alma Mater song, inscriptions on our buildings, our lexicon, and our culture. This change is a local decision, where we can demonstrate our commitment to justice and Black lives at NCSU immediately. Without action and change, our systemic use of Dixie overwhelms our phony programs and prose about racial justice.
Let’s teach what we believe, and practice what we teach. Maybe we can change the Alma Mater to sing:
“Where the winds of justice softly blow o’er the fields of Caroline…”
Dr. Cubbage is a professor in the NC State Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.