I don't spend much time thinking about it, but occasionally some uniquely southern item will catch my eye. When we stumbled upon the sheet music for Pick Me Up and Lay Me Down in Dear Old Dixieland we couldn't leave without it. The artwork is just so evocative of what I think of as The South.
That said, the south, and the phrase "Dixie", certainly have a dark side. I was taught the song I Wish I was in Dixie as a small child. It seemed perfectly innocent. It was only later that I learned that some people consider it offensive.
I always assumed that the term Dixie stemmed from the Mason-Dixon line, that is, the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania which for most intents divided the free states from the slave states. This may be true, but there is another possibility: it may refer to the ten dollar notes issued by private banks in Louisiana. These notes were stamped "dix", meaning "ten" in French, and were called "Dixies" by English speakers. Thus, the area around New Orleans especially, and the south in general, came to be known as "Dixie Land" during the 1800s.
A third possibility is a bit more sinister. Apparently there was a Mr. Dixy living on Manhattan Island who owned slaves until it was made illegal there in 1827. He was said to be kind, and so the term "Dixy's land" referred to a comfortable place in which to be a slave. I can't help but find this to be an incredibly tragic notion.
The song I Wish I was in Dixie is similarly shrouded in mystery. It was supposedly written by Daniel Emmet, a Northerner. But he may have heard it from the Snowden family, a group of African American musicians. The lyrics seem to actually have been penned by Evelyn Snowden in a letter to her father about how much she missed the south. All that is known for sure is that Emmet preformed the song with his blackface minstrel show in New York City in 1859. It became such a hit that the Confederate states used it as their unofficial anthem during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln even ordered it played by upon learning of the Confederate surrender.
Of course, I knew none of this when I sang the song as a girl. I just thought it was about being proud of the place you grew up. Now that I'm older I know that blind pride in one's heritage is not a virtue, and that to truly appreciate a place you need to look past your nostalgia.