“The Heart of Dixie” a lost cause
In 2022, Alabama will offer residents four new license plate designs representing tourism, military heroism, education and the cure of childhood cancer. Sadly, these license plates will also continue to feature “the heart of Dixie”, resulting in a story of oppression and racial hatred.
Supposedly, to escape the equally problematic “cotton state” label it bore in the early 20th century, Alabama began to refer to itself as “Dixie’s Heart.” The state then passed legislation that all license plates display the term.
Despite its prominent location on Alabama car tags, Dixie is a racist term related to the pre-war period, which initiated some of the most vile and brutal aspects of American history. It was a time when white personal and economic gain unabashedly took precedence over black humanity. The word perpetuates white supremacy, which has been used to intimidate, instill fear and remind black people that white supremacy is the law of the land.
Personalized car labels reflect the sensitivities of each individual driver, and most causes deserve the high profile they command on our roads. They should be considered prime real estate that can be used to promote Alabama values, ethics, and spirit. Still, “Heart of Dixie” is sure to make visitors think, and residents may resent being forced to pay homage to the slave-era South on their license plates – in the sense both literally and figuratively.
Labels with the slogan were issued in Alabama in 1955, shortly after the United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision. Brown v. Board of Education ruling that the racial segregation of children was unconstitutional. Like the placement of Confederate symbols in public spaces, the term “the heart of Dixie” was strategically placed on car labels to remind black people of their place (or lack thereof) in society.
More recently, the state continued this trend by passing the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, which prohibited the removal of Confederate symbols from public property. Alabama is one of six Southern states that enacted unfair preservation laws decades after losing the Civil War. This effort to protect Confederate relics undermined the will of communities that sought to eliminate symbols of hate among them.
The reference “The Heart of Dixie” is a nod to white slave owners and does not represent Alabamians today. Nothing that idealizes the pre-war period, slavery, Confederacy, or the Jim Crow era should ever be associated with state-sanctioned speech. The requirement to display this wording on our license plates is an outdated holdover from the old South that should be eliminated from state law immediately.
Because citizens of Alabama shouldn’t be forced to buy a car tag with racist implications or display this state-required messaging, I will introduce legislation once the regular session resumes to finally end to this practice. Instead of sending the message that Alabama is choosing to stay on the wrong side of history, we should be looking for ways to embrace our bright and inclusive future.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center Who owns the heritage? Public symbols of the Confederation report, Alabama is one of seven states in the United States that sell car tags or license plates associated with the Confederacy. Currently, there are 156 Confederate memorials sitting in public spaces in Alabama, and 56 of them are monuments.