Howard L. Sacks is Professor Emeritus of sociology at Kenyon College, where he also served as Senior Advisor to the President and Provost. As Director of the Rural Life Center, Dr. Sacks coordinated educational, scholarly, and public projects to ensure the vitality of local rural life. He has served on panels of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities and is the recipient of over forty grants and fellowships for scholarly research and public programs, for which he has received numerous state and national awards.
In addition to two books, his publications have appeared in a wide variety of scholarly journals, as well as numerous magazines and newspapers. His book, Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem (2003), was hailed as “the fullest, most finely detailed account of the musical life of a nineteenth-century African American family anywhere in the United States” and received an Ohioana Book Award.
Dr. Sacks regularly consults with organizations and communities nationwide on rural development and culture. A pioneer in the local food movement, Dr. Sacks served on Governor Strickland’s Ohio Food Policy Advisory Council to build an indigenous agricultural system that addresses the food needs of all Ohio residents. He raises sheep with his wife, Judy, on their farm in Gambier.
What Do We Do About Dixie?
Today, it’s a Confederate monument on a leafy Southern square. Last month, it was a blackface photo in the college yearbook of a prominent legislator. What do we do about historical symbols associated with hate and exclusion? No symbol generates greater controversy than the song “Dixie.” Since its debut on a New York City stage in 1859, “Dixie” has been an American pop sensation known the world over—and the Confederacy’s national anthem. Yet for over one hundred years a black community in central Ohio has asserted that a group of talented African-American folk musicians, the Snowden Family, taught “Dixie” to its ascribed composer, Mount Vernon native Daniel Decatur Emmett, founder of the blackface minstrel show. Even now, “Dixie” plays a complicated role in the town’s community narrative. The story of “Dixie” suggests how we might contend with problematic cultural symbols that continue to divide us.
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