ST. GEORGE — A group of protesters gathered outside the St. George city offices Thursday morning in support of preserving the name “Dixie” in Southern Utah. It followed a similar protest held in the same location just one week prior.
Protesters began to file into the City Hall parking lot at about 8 a.m. This time, with a larger group of people, the protest included speeches from community members and public figures, including St. George Mayor Jon Pike.
Among the speakers was Jerry Atkin, former CEO and current board president for SkyWest, who delivered his remarks from the bed of a pickup truck. He was born and raised in St. George and spoke on the issue at hand.
“I love Dixie, the name of Dixie, and I don’t want that name changed or degraded,” Atkin said. “The history of Dixie is deep and admiring of people getting things done that shouldn’t have been possible. We should admire history and learn from history, not try to rewrite it. Dixie has no history of racism, and making it an issue now just isn’t right.”
As various people from the community spoke, the crowd called on the mayor to speak. When Pike took the microphone, he began by saying that the city would not be renaming the iconic sugarloaf anytime soon and that the city has little to do with renaming anything with the name Dixie. He proceeded to point out the other St. George City Council members in attendance, asking them if they would change the name. They all responded, “no.”
But “anytime soon” didn’t sit well with a number of protesters, who in retort said “never,” with one person in the crowd telling Pike, “you sound like a politician.”
“In terms of the city of St. George, I don’t see us at all, anytime in the near future, changing anything that’s Dixie,” Pike said. “Let’s just be respectful to others.”
This statement from the mayor was met with boos and jeers from the crowd. “You’re disrespecting the whole city,” one protester said. “When are you up for reelection,” another asked.
The main focus of Pike’s speech had to do with being respectful of people and their opinions on the topic. He said he is hoping to hear all sides of the argument and “bridge that divide” that exists in similar issues.
“I think time will tell, and people will decide,” Pike told St. George News. “They’ll decide in terms of who they elect to represent them on city councils, and they’ll decide by how they support businesses and so forth. There is at least two sides to every argument, sometimes more, and I think on this issue, there are varying degrees of comfort or discomfort with celebrating the name Dixie. I think we need to again respect people, listen to them and hopefully show that side of the Dixie spirit.”
He also spoke about the name Dixie in terms of economics and whether businesses would be impacted by a possible name change or how the renaming of local entities could impact the economy.
“Whether you’re the university or a private business, a local business, an international type of business, if you’re always having to explain your brand, that could be problematic for you as a business,” Pike said. “I think you’ve got to weigh that. That’s what businesses will do, and I think we should allow them that opportunity to go through their own process. That’s a thing the city won’t be involved with at all.”
During the protest, demonstrators referenced a Black Lives Matter protest that occurred just down the street on St. George Boulevard, with one protester claiming the two protests were handled differently by the city. In response, Pike touched on the importance of protests, particularly peaceful ones.
“I think it’s enormously important,” Pike said. “I think that some of the struggles we might be having around the country and the world are because we have a hard time protesting peacefully.”
“I think we need to allow people that opportunity, we have to set the parameters that are within the law, and that’s what we really tried hard to do here. There were people on both sides of those arguments that made mistakes, and so there were tickets and some arrests made because they went outside the bounds,” he said in reference to other protests.
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