The Dixie “Secessions,” 1987–1988

A presidential inauguration, feast, and slave auction attended Dixie’s springtime secession from the Union. But it wasn’t 1861 or south of the Mason–Dixon line—it was March 13, 1987 in St. George, Utah.

“The old South will rise again,” declared the Washington County News on March 13, 1987. “Rebels everywhere prepare to secede from the state in a two-day celebration of Utah’s Dixie,” a nickname for southern Utah.

Part county fair, part gala, and part fundraiser, the Dixie “Secession” of 1987 was the brainchild of Lon Henderson, a St. George resident who the Chamber of Commerce had tasked with putting together a fundraiser. Rejecting the Chamber’s initial suggestion of a coupon book, Henderson proposed a “once-a-year, gala celebration-type activity” with Secession as the unifying theme, inspired by the region’s nickname and the local college’s Rebel mascot.

Although the Chamber of Commerce liked the idea, it did not feel confident about hosting such a large event on its own. But the city government of St. George had also asked Henderson to organize a fundraiser on its behalf, and he realized he could solve one problem with another. Henderson invited the city to join the enterprise and later Dixie College and the Washington County School District as well. Together, the four groups agreed to jointly sponsor the Secession, and they tasked a “Secession committee” with organizing the event. Advertisements sponsoring the Secession appeared in newspapers, television, and radio, and local businesses tied into the Secession, promising discounts for customers who displayed official Secession pin-back buttons.

The two-day “celebration package” spanned Friday through Saturday, March 13 and 14, and was large in scope. Some events seemed like they could come from any weekend fair, such as the golf tournament, inauguration of Dixie College president Douglas Alder, country music concert with Mel Tillis and Dottie West, and hot air balloon race. But other activities embraced the aesthetics of the Secession name. At 11:00 AM on Saturday, a bronze statue of two Confederate soldiers was dedicated at the Dixie Center Plaza (see The Rebels of Dixie State” for more). Later, at 11:45 AM in Worthen Park, Utah Governor Norman Bangerter read a secession proclamation, announcing that St. George would be “officially seceded” from Utah from noon until midnight. Accompanied by the Dixie Middle School Band, Bangerter fired an “old Dixie cannon” at 12:00 PM to officially begin the festivities.

A “Southern Utah State Fair” offered rides on hot air balloons, a greased pig chase, and a chance to plunge Mayor Karl Brooks at a dunking booth. Simultaneously, a “Southern barbecue” served barbecued meats, corn bread, and green salad while performers sang jazz and country music. An auction also started at noon, offering over a hundred items including a microwave, a keyboard, a chainsaw—and “slaves.” The Washington County News wrote, “Slaves will also be sold at the auction.” These “slaves” were local community members, and “purchasing” them at the auction entitled one to “the services they will provide.” For example, Mayor Karl Brooks put himself up for sale and offered to “assign the city to perform a service.” Royce Jones, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, promised to “mow a lawn.” Finally, the Secession closed with the evening “Dixie Ball,” a dance themed after the popular 1939 film Gone With the Wind. Plus, whoever wore the “best overall” “Southern costume” was promised a special prize: a $400 VCR with a copy of Gone With the Wind.

Including both advertising sponsorships and ticket fees, the 1987 Secession took in a little over $40,000 in revenue, but the cost of putting on the event was so high the Secession’s four organizing institutions made only about $15,000 in profit. Nevertheless, they resolved to make the tradition annual, and on February 12, 1988, Mayor Brooks publicly proclaimed that on March 12, Utah’s Dixie would secede “from everything or anything you want,” including “snow, fog, the phone, the kids.” Henderson helped unfurl a forty-foot-long Confederate battle flag over St. George Boulevard, and members of the Utah National Guard fired a rifle salute.

The 1988 Secession added new events: a 10K run, a volleyball tournament, and a second dance intended for college students called “The Rebellion.” Governor Bangerter stepped aside as “president” of the Secession, replaced by television news anchor Dick Norse.

TV and radio commercials once again publicized the Secession, made possible  in 1988 by John H. Morgan, president of Utah Resources International, Inc. In exchange for including a plug for his St. George Hilton Inn, Morgan donated nearly $30,000 of advertising time to the Secession. One ad declared, “Dixie is Rising again. And we are rebelling. Rebelling against crime, ignorance, sloth, and idleness. And we’re building a great community.”

Despite the excitement, the “annual” tradition did not take. 1988 was the last time Utah’s Dixie “seceded.”

Audio

“Storming of the legislature” To publicize the Secession, St. George residents dressed up in costume as Southern Confederates—including one Rhett Butler and one Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind—for what choreographer Roy Fitzel called the “storming of the legislature,” entailing “Butler,” reading off a Secession proclamation before the crowd performed “I Wish I Was in Dixie.” Source: Senate Floor Debate Recordings collection (series 2215). Disc 51, folder 17, box 36, Senate Floor Debate Recordings collection. Courtesy of the Utah State Archives. https://archives.utah.gov/research/inventories/22515.html.

Images

Confederate header
Confederate header To celebrate the “Secession” in 1987, the Washington County News ran a header with Confederate imagery and identified St. George as a city in the “Confederate State of Dixie.” Source: Olbert, Rae Dawn. “Dixie Kicks Off Two Day ‘Secession.’” Washington County News, March 13, 1987. Courtesy of the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library.
Secession button
Secession button Pat Mellor’s article for the Washington County News mentioned that “secessionists thrust promotional buttons into the car windows” of vehicles that slowed down to watch Secession committee members put up the Confederate flag over St. George Boulevard on February 18, 1988. An identical badge and logo was used in advertising for the 1987 Secession, though with the year changed. Each year, residents could purchase these pin-back buttons in order to qualify for discounts at participating local businesses. Source: Dixie Secession and Spirit of Dixie Fundraisers (WASH-076). Box 4, item 3, Dixie Secession pin-back buttons. Courtesy of the Dixie State University Special Collections and Archives. https://archives.dixie.edu/repositories/2/resources/112.
Confederate kepi
Confederate kepi Found in the Dixie Secession collection, this hat imitates the appearance of a Confederate soldier’s grey kepi, though the Confederate banner adorning the top is a modern add-on. Source: Dixie Secession and Spirit of Dixie Fundraisers (WASH-076). Box 4, item 2, reenactment Confederate hat. Courtesy of the Dixie State University Special Collections and Archives. https://archives.dixie.edu/repositories/2/archival_objects/18292.
Dixie Ball
Dixie Ball An advertisement for the Dixie Ball at the 1987 Secession. The artwork alludes to Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, characters in Gone With the Wind. Source: Dixie Secession and Spirit of Dixie Fundraisers (WASH-076). Box 1, folder 7, ball flyer. Courtesy of the Dixie State University Special Collections and Archives. https://archives.dixie.edu/repositories/2/archival_objects/18237
Secession calendar
Secession calendar A schedule for the 1987 Secession. Source: Olbert, Rae Dawn. “Dixie Kicks Off Two Day ‘Secession.’” Washington County News, March 13, 1987. Courtesy of the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library.
The second Secession
The second Secession This clipping is from the February 18, 1988 issue of the Washington County News. In the bucket trucks, Lon Henderson, Secession co-chair Becky Peterson, and Dixie State College president Douglas Alder all help unfurl the forty-foot Confederate banner. Source: Mellor, Pat. “Area About to Leave ‘Union’ Again.” Washington County News, February 15, 1988. Courtesy of the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library.
The 1988 Dixie College yearbook
The 1988 Dixie College yearbook The Dixie Secession in The Confederate, Dixie State College’s 1988 yearbook. The imagery at the top of the page matches the promotional button. Source: The Confederate (St. George, UT: Dixie State College, 1988), 35. Courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society. https://wchsutah.org/schools/dixie-college-yearbooks/1988YB.pdf.
Secession directors
Secession directors The Dixie Secession Board of Directors in 1988. Source: The Confederate (St. George, UT: Dixie State College, 1988), 146. Courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society. https://wchsutah.org/schools/dixie-college-yearbooks/1988YB.pdf.
“A patriotic musical invitation”
“A patriotic musical invitation” The Utah State Legislature’s official Senate Journal took note of the “storming of the legislature” as a “patriotic musical invitation” without further explanation (see audio file below for more details). Source: Senate Journals collection (series 409). State of Utah, Senate Journal: 1987 General Session of the Forty-Seventh Legislature, 430, reel 43. Courtesy of the Utah State Archives. https://archives.utah.gov/research/inventories/409.html.

Location

300 S 400 E, St. George, UT 84770 | This marks Vernon Worthen Park, where the festivities of the 1987 Secession were held, including Governor Bangerter’s proclamation and the southern barbecue.

Metadata

Makoto Hunter, Brigham Young University, “The Dixie “Secessions,” 1987–1988,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 20, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/494.