‘Dixie’ remark raises ire

SUSD board president is advocating ‘patriotic’ songs

By Roger Phillips
Record Staff Writer
October 14, 2010

STOCKTON – School board President Beverly Fitch McCarthy offended some people Tuesday night when she delivered her vision of how to impart Stockton Unified students with patriotic American values.

McCarthy said she believes students would benefit from learning an array of "patriotic" songs – including "Dixie," a marching song for Confederate troops during the Civil War that was popular at minstrel shows after the war. The playing of "Dixie" by college marching bands at football games has been banned at several Southern universities in recent years.

Bobby Bivens, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was not on board with McCarthy’s idea.

"Does she propose for the children to sing in blackface, as well?" he said.

Apprised of Bivens’ reaction, McCarthy said, "If I offended the NAACP, that’s not my goal."

McCarthy made her patriotic pitch during her comment time at Stockton Unified’s board meeting Tuesday. It was Columbus Day, and McCarthy used the occasion to say she wants all students to say the Pledge of Allegiance each day, and she wants U.S. flags and maps in each classroom.

She continued, "I’d like to have them learn songs such as ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee,’ … ‘Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,’ ‘America the Beautiful,’ ‘Army goes rolling along,’ ‘Ballad of the Green Berets,’ ‘Dixie’ … and on and on and on."

Bivens said of "Dixie," "We’re not in that time. That’s something that’s reflective of a time way back that promoted the separation of people. That was one of the songs used by the Confederacy to promote the minimization of African-Americans. We are still suffering as African-Americans from that era, that type of thinking. If they’re going to teach kids songs about America, I’d like them to include ‘The Negro National Anthem.’ "

McCarthy said Wednesday that when she spoke the night before, she was reading from a list of songs she had found on a website. She said she was unaware of the negative view some have of "Dixie."

"I think (the song is) just part of the American culture," said McCarthy, who is not seeking re-election to the board next month and will complete her term in December. "What’s wrong with that song?"

Made aware of Bivens’ reaction, however, she said, "I will strike ‘Dixie’ from the list."

This is not the first time McCarthy’s words have offended members of a Stockton minority group. In 2008, she raised the ire of some in the Latino community when she said at a board meeting, "I prefer that we all, when we’re speaking locally, speak in English exclusively, because this is America, and English is the primary language."

Greeted by a packed boardroom several weeks later that included many angry community members, McCarthy said she had been misunderstood. She said she believed an English-only district would be an "absurd concept" and merely wanted interpreters able to serve speakers of all appropriate languages at Stockton Unified public forums.

After Wednesday’s "Dixie" flap, she said, "I was trying to tout the founding of our country. … I wouldn’t deliberately use an ethnic slur."

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