Kerry Peirson, a native of North Oakland, South Berkeley, Washington and LeConte Elementary. Willard Jr. High and ’66 graduate of El Cerrito High, has community activist roots that began to stir while attending UC Berkeley after a two-year stint in the military.
Completing his academics at Howard University in Journalism, Peirson’s evolution into advocacy was fine tuned. He worked for CBS Television in Washington DC, and the Washington Post before returning to Marin County in 1982.
Despite his educational background and experience, Peirson was unable to find work in Marin for years, which motivated him to social activism, where he spent the next 10 years studying political systems, criminal justice and educational advocacy groups to help minorities and poor people pursue justice and opportunity.
Peirson served as Marin’s first African-American supervisor’s aide; Mill Valley’s first appointed commissioner; served on Marin Counties Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, Trustee to Marin Community Foundation Board and was the ACLU chairman twice.
In 1997, Peirson noticed that San Rafael had a soccer team named “Dixie Stompers” which immediately, for him, engendered images of cops kicking Black people in Alabama. Peirson felt compelled to investigate.
He discovered the team was part of the Dixie School District in Marin and queried the Superintendent. Superintendent Larry Lyons relayed a bogus story regarding the 1929 Superintendent naming the District after his daughter. Investigating further, Peirson visited the original Dixie School house and discovered confederate roots of the District’s founder James Miller and that Marin County was pro confederacy in 1860.
In 1997, Peirson generated local buzz around the school name by writing a few news articles and the school district arranged a “community meeting “ to discuss the issue. It turned out he was the only African American at the meeting which became so heated that he was called a “Gorilla,” and told to go back to where he came from.
“I had never been frightened in this way before. The room seemed to revert to the antebellum South. I asked the reporter there to sneak me out. I subsequently got a few death threats and other ill will.” The Dixie School Board soundly rejected any suggestion that it was inappropriate.
Six years later, a group of community members from San Rafael and elsewhere in Marin County once again engaged the Dixie School Board and urged the district to change the name.
Dozens of community members including Noah Griffin, San Rafael City Manager Rod Gould, San Rafael City Council member Cyr Miller and Dixie residents Dan Daniels and Dixie District Trustee Karen Crocket urged the School Board to change the name. The Dixie School Board declined to change the name and in fact voted to preserve it.
The demographics of the district support the legacy of the name. Both student enrollment and employment statistics, when measured by race, show very large disparities. Between 2003 and 2018 the Dixie District had one African-American teacher for two years (2005 – 2007).
The student population is1,989.of which 2.8 percent are African-American. Marin County was shown in a recent study, racecounts.org, to have by far the largest disparity and inequity in the State of California when looked at by race, and much of that inequity and disparity can be seen in the Dixie District demographics when measured against the other 57 counties in the state.
“This name issue is indicative of the state of race relations in Marin City and County. Go to racecounts.org, and you’ll see how far behind this County lags in terms of equity and inclusion for people of color.”
According to Peirson, “Eventually the name will change, and I just fain’t whistling Dixie!” Go to www.changethename.net for more information
Part 2: Equity and Disparities in Marin City a Problem