The Winston-Salem City Council has the final say on whether the name of the Dixie Classic Fair should be changed.

The Fair Planning Committee voted unanimously Monday afternoon to recommend that the city “reconsider” the name of the Dixie Classic Fair.

At the same time, the committee is calling for more time to pick a new name, should the fair get one.

“We recommended that the name of the Dixie Classic Fair be reconsidered, not necessarily changed,” Kathleen Garber, who chairs the committee, said in an email after the action. “We want city council to give more time and resources to the process of selecting a new name should they decide to change it.”

The committee acknowledged the overwhelming response to a public survey was to keep the name Dixie Classic, which has been the fair’s name since 1956. But some committee members said they acknowledge that a number of people see the word Dixie as having racist connotations.

“Unfortunately, this term has taken on this connotation ... maybe unfairly, but this is the time we live in,” said committee member Karen McHugh. “We have to consider that as we move forward. Change is a good thing. It is hard.”

The committee’s recommendation now goes to the city’s Public Assembly Facilities Commission, then on to the Winston-Salem City Council.

Although the text of the committee’s recommendation calls for the name to be “reconsidered,” it also states that “the consideration of the new name should allow time and external resources to adequately and effectively review naming options.”

The city should consider whether the process for changing the name is being rushed, fair committee members said.

Some said name changes usually involve marketing work such as trying out names on focus groups and bringing in outside consultants. Instead, the city wants to pick a new name this summer and have it in place for 2020.

“Anyone that cares about changing the name would not follow this process,” fair committee member Joseph Hamby said. Hamby complained about “how irresponsible ... and inefficient this process has been.”

The current push to change the name of the fair started April 9 when a group of residents told members of the Winston-Salem City Council that the word Dixie was offensive and carried reminders of slavery in the Old South.

The fair will keep its name this fall, but the city put in place a timetable that calls for a new name to be brought before the city council by August.

Committee member Lisa Eldridge made a suggestion Monday that the committee could submit two resolutions. One, reflecting public opposition, would call for no change, and the second resolution would make a suggestion on a new name if the council insisted on one.

Some members of the fair committee expressed ambivalence over what should be done during their meeting on Monday. On the one hand, the massive opposition to a name change was evident in the public-survey responses.

But Hamby noted some people responded to the survey with racist remarks. He said that response supported the idea that, for some, Dixie does have racist associations.

A consensus emerged that picking a new name from those suggested by the public was too hasty.

“Can it be (changed) in 2021?” McHugh asked. “What’s the hurry? It gives us a very short timeline.”

The city received some 11,500 responses when it solicited feedback on the fair name, with 9,801 coming from an online survey that people took. Among the total number of responses, 76% said the fair should be called the Dixie Classic Fair, and another 8% said to make no change in the name.

The city hasn’t done any scientific polling on the name change. Responses came from anyone who chose to speak out. Among the survey responders, 36% came from Winston-Salem, 22% came from elsewhere in the Triad, 38% came from other parts of the state, and 3% came from other states.

There was a smattering of support for other possible names, including Carolina Classic Fair, Sparks Classic Fair and Winston-Salem Fair, along with other more obscure suggestions. The Sparks name was likely in homage to longtime fair director David Sparks, who retired in 2018.

Hamby noted that the surveys turned into more of a referendum on the current name rather than giving the committee a variety of name choices. He questioned whether the survey really did much good in providing possible new names.

Committee member Rachel Barron, a public relations professional, said a name-change should involve activities such as running name prospects through focus groups and other marketing techniques, even hiring an outside consultant to run the process.

“This is definitely rushed from what a normal process would be,” she said.

Eldridge said another problem was that the debate has created division in the community instead of a rebranding effort that’s focused on the excitement of a new name.

“The way this whole thing has been handled has been wrong,” Eldridge said.

Only a handful of people watched the committee in action, although the city had set up dozens of chairs for a large turnout that never happened.

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wyoung@wsjournal.com 336-727-7369 @wyoungWSJ

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