Why Are So Many LDS Utahns Still “Whistling Dixie”?

In June of 2020, President Nelson shared an anti-racism message via his social media accounts and the church newsroom. This is one statement from the very worthy posts:


“The Creator of us all calls on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children. Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent!”



I loved this message! As someone who married outside of my ethnicity, and with African and Asian family members, President Nelson’s words meant the world to me. I loved it even more when in the October 2020 General Conference, he repeated this sentiment in this speech:


“I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.”


President Oaks echoed this with strength, also in his speech at the October 2020 General Conference. He said:


“As citizens and as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism.”


I could not agree more, and though I endeavour to do my best to listen and act in inclusive and meaningful ways, I wondered what I might be able to do better. I also began to watch– watch like it was Christmas. The past few Christmases, the church announced and rolled out the #Lighttheworld program. I love this program, and I love seeing church member friends and family share their experiences as they invested at Giving Machines, reported entire school lunch debts being paid off on the day designated to help feed the poor, and shared heartfelt messages of Christ, friendship and love.


Thus, as soon as I saw the news reports that the Dixie name was being removed from the University in St. George, Utah, I saw the prophets words in action. To be honest, I do not know if Representative Bradley Last (Utah House District 71) or Representative Kelly Miles (Utah House District 11) are members of the church or not. But as soon as I saw the proposed name-change legislation, and the fact that it came but a month after Nelson’s words, I believed that they are. I believed that they were following the prophet. And if they are not members of the church, I believed that they were inspired be the sense of urgency proclaimed by the prophets to “root out racism.”


Just as Juliet proclaimed that her dear Romeo was yet wonderful, even if he were a Montague, a prettier term for sewage would also be foul:

That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet


The term Dixie is racist. No matter how much one might sentimentally white wash it’s history, it is the opposite of a rose. It is repugnant and retains the stench of bigotry. The term has a long history of Confederate symbolism, black face minstrel shows and mock slave auctions. (Summarily outlined here in this easy to read, well-written piece of about a million resources on the topic).


And lest you try to escape or railroad me into thinking otherwise, the historical term in position to Utah is also racist. President Brigham Young made no issue in his support of slavery; some records even sickeningly reflect that he encouraged settlers to enslave the Native Americans in the area. He said:

“I am a firm believer in Slavery… I know slavery is right, and there should be a law made to have the slaves serve their masters, because [persons of color] are not capable of ruling themselves.” – President Brigham Young, address to the Utah Territory Legislature, 23 January 1852


How could Young vacation in his winter home and not stain the history of the land with the sweat and blood of slaves? After all, the St. George area was originally called the “Cotton Mission” by Brigham Young as it was his goal to raise the cash-crop cotton in the area. In regard to this, it is important to recognise that cotton was considered a financially lucrative investment in part because of the free labor of slaves. Considering this, it should not be a surprise that while there are records of some of the first black settler / slaves in northern Utah, record keepers in southern Utah did not even record the names of our African American brothers and sisters pioneers because they were brought into the area as slaves. (As sickening as it is, one of the reasons we are aware of the Northern Utah Slaves is because we have records that their labor was “donated” and accepted in place of cash tithes.)


It is further imperative to own the fact that upon first settlement, Young called slave-owner Robert Dockery Covington as the first president of the Washington Branch of the church in that area (Covington was recorded as a slave owner in the 1840 census, about twenty years before he was called to farm cotton in the St. George area). Covington was the leader of the second company of saints to arrive in the Virgin River Valley, and along with the Adair (first) company, these men and the majority of the members in these companies originated from pro-slavery states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.


It is easy to see that as a result of these men, who sympathised, idolised, and lived as if still in US slave-holding states, the St. George area began to be called Dixie. This is not a sentimental, cultural nickname. This is historical, generational racism.


Quoting from this article in Cedar City’s The Spectrum (one of about a million resources on the topic):

February 1868: Our Dixie Times published a letter to the editor in which a local wrote, “Serfs have masters, and Negros should have. Intelligent beings are governed only by intelligence.”


Lest you think that was long ago, and should be forgotten, the 20th century retained this abhorrent attitude. According to Intermountain histories, in the time period that gave life to the American civil rights movement, the embracing racist symbols remained and even increased in St. George:

In 1952, (the then) Dixie College changed its mascot from “the Flyers” to “Rodney the Rebel.” In 1959, the community embraced the Confederate battle flag as a secondary school symbol. Then, in 1966, the yearbook’s name changed from The Dixie to The Confederate.


Rodney the Rebel, The Confederate and Dixie are not long-lost sentimental names from a bygone era. They are symbols of modern, dare I say, contemporary history. Racist history. And it is ugly. The name Dixie was borne of slavery, and the furthing timing of “Rodney the (Confederate) Rebel” and the Confederate flag as introduced during the US civil rights movement, are clear symbols of southern pride and race-based oppression. I actually remember visiting extended (white) family in St. George in the 1980’s and being gobsmacked at these symbols in the community. As a young tween outsider, I said nothing. I was afraid. But I felt the discrimination, and I was confused to find such symbolism in Utah- the Mecca of Mormon faith.


By 1993, there was a movement in St. George, fittingly called an abolitionist movement, to abolish the the confederate soldier and the confederate flag as symbols of (then) Dixie College. At that time, the younger students were empathetic to the change, recognising the racist connotation and ties, but the alumni were hesitant, thinking that the soldier and flag were “fun.” (When is war and racial oppression fun?). The flag was rescinded then, but it wasn’t until 2005 that “Rodney the Rebel” was retired as the long-standing confederate soldier mascot.


You read that right. 2005.


A decade earlier, in April 1995, President James E. Faust bore testimony in General Conference that “In my experience, no race or class seems superior to any other in spirituality and faithfulness.” He taught that we are all heirs to the kingdom of God, regardless of our ethnic, worldly backgrounds. I loved his words, then and now, and was grateful that he spoke to my heart.


Many terms have an ugly history, but thankfully, we, as children of Christ, being free from mandatory political party obligations, are moving away from these disparaging terms. Because words mean something, for good or for ill. As for St. George, the only official term that yet remains as a pride-filled symbol of this racist history is the term “Dixie.” In this, St. George is not alone! Over the past twenty years, many people and organizations began to recognise the racist connotations of the term. Thankfully, this recognition moved to action and the term began to be removed.


Happily, in November 2021, the name change was made for the University! This swatch of Southern Utah land, stained with the history of racism was finally proactive in, as President Nelson said, “abandoning attitudes of prejudice.” To be clear, name-calling is an attitude because the name being used is offensive. “Dixie” is a name associated with historical racism, just as the name of a female dog when unwelcomingly cast upon a woman is an insult.


In seeing this historic, Christlike correction happen, I thought of 4 Nephi 1 in the Book of Mormon. And I remembered the words of President James E. Faust in teaching the Christlike truth of “There were no manner of -Ites.” This same truth is echoed by President Nelson at almost every turn. It is sacred, and gives me hope to an end of the historically racist Dixie-ites, especially since 68% of the population of St. George has membership in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


The area itself is yet soaked in the red blood of “Dixie” language, so much that only a mere 0.8% of the population is African American. but there was hope. Hope for much-needed diversity. Hope for a Christ-like love of all people, regardless of ethnicity. I hoped that the church and her members in Southern Utah would embrace the future as one being free from the shackles of racist terminology and labels. I was ever further inspired with President Nelson’s lyrical speech in the May 2022 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults. He again spoke against all forms of hate, including labels such as the term Dixie connotates:


“Labels can lead to judging and animosity. Any abuse or prejudice towards another because of nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender, educational degrees, culture or other significant identifiers is offensive to our maker. Such mistreatment causes us to live beneath our stature as His covenant sons and daughters.”


I was further inspired and hopeful when earlier this month, just following the aforementioned devotional, President Oaks added via his social media accounts that:

On the subject of race, we must start by recognizing the very real challenges of racism, by condemning on-going racial prejudice, and by strengthening those who continue to face unfair biases.


And yet. When it comes to Washington County, Utah, there is a movement to retain the racist language. It is a loud movement, bickering over the retention of the racist name of the area, even enlisting, naming and shaming politicians in an effort to un-do the inspired and righteous removal of the racist term. This movement aims to NOT strengthen people or Christlike love by using respectful language, it intends to divide people by retaining the hate-soaked name of Dixie. This movement completely ignores the pleas of the prophet to “root out racism.


And sadly, from where I am standing, these people in the Pro-Dixie red shirts are church members. Weekly-attending, recommend-holding, “Light the world” social media posting, tithe-paying church members.




Are they afraid to follow the prophet? I cannot understand any other reason but for fear– fear of being cast out from your friends who still hold strong to racist culture. Here’s a tip: These people are not your friends. Should you need courage, I remind you of Sister Nelson’s words:


I believe if you could see yourself living with your Heavenly Parents and with Jesus Christ; if you could observe what you did premortally and see yourself making commitments–even covenants–with others, including your mentors and teachers; if you could see yourself courageously responding to attacks on truth and valiantly standing up for Jesus Christ, I believe that every one of you would have the increased power, increased commitment, and eternal perspective to help you overcome any and all of your confusion, doubts, struggles, and problems. All of them!



In other words, be of good courage (Joshua 1:9)!! Follow the prophet. Stand out against racism in every from, including words and names!


Thus. Stop whistling Dixie. Just stop.



Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

You may also like...

15 Responses

  1. Stella says:

    I agree wholeheartedly and think we need to change BYU’s name too.

  2. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this well-researched, factual, and powerful post, Spunky! As someone who is from St. George and attended that institution as an 18 and 19 year-old, I too disliked the resistance in my community to changing its name, flag, and mascot but didn’t have the voice I have now to take a firm stand against racism. I celebrate these changes and want to echo your sentiments about uprooting racism and speaking out against it with courage and commitment.

    And Stella, I couldn’t agree more about the need to change BYU’s name too. The tide is turning and eventually the Church will have to acknowledge the hypocrisy inherent in its recent rhetoric being starkly opposed to BY’s racist attitudes, words, and actions.

    • Spunky says:

      Thank you for your comment, Wendy! It is scary to be the only person to speak up, but hopefully when more of us do it, we can see the army of goodness around us.

  3. Em says:

    I honestly had no idea of all of this history, so thanks. I guess I just assumed (until the recent furor) that Dixie was someone’s last name, a founding father perhaps. In fairness to me I’ve only been to the area once and that was twenty years ago, so I’m not exactly steeped in it. But when you know better, you do better. And they were right to change this name. It’s a logistic adjustment but there’s really no reason to cling to something so obviously offensive just for sentimentality. I’d think the sentimentality would dissolve as soon as you learned WHY it had the name it did. Apparently not.

    • Spunky says:

      I wasn’t fully aware of the history when I was in the area myself, even though something felt “off.” I understood that “off” feeling later when I saw the history, including the resurgence of racism in the anti-civil rights actions in the area during the 1950’s and 1960’s. I honestly think (being sappy and hoping everyone is really nice deep down inside) that most people in favour of keeping the name think of it as a 19th century idea that isn’t based in slavery. The truth is violently different and reflects racism in both the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

      In other words, when people, especially active church members use the term, I can’t help but recall the words of Indigo Montoya, “You keep using that word, I do not think It means what you think it means.”

      Thank you for your comment!

  4. Holly Miller says:

    Interesting history – thanks!

  5. Katie Rich says:

    So glad the name is changing despite local opposition.

  6. Spunky says:

    Me, too. Hopefully the change is the first of many. Our own Nancy moved to have the statue of slave-holder Covington removed, but there is much opposition. https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2020/06/29/asd-professor-asks-washington-city-to-remove-statue-of-robert-covington-man-who-gave-dixie-its-name/#.Ypbss6hBzrc

  7. EmilyB says:

    Look closely at the language:

    these calls to end racism use phrasing like “the creator wants each of us…” and “see yourself corageously responding.” They expect individuals to fix this while the church as a whole continues to print and distribute racist books that disparage native Americans and anybody with “dark and loathsome” skin.

    These mixed messages validates both racists *and* civil rights advocates in the church. Racism remains a canonized Mormon doctrine until the church itself invalidates their own racist writings/teachings (the race and priesthood essay only denounces “theories” pertaining to the pre-1978 ban)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.