Could Be Last Year for Mount Vernon’s Dan Emmett Festival, Due to Authorship of Southern Folk Song ‘Dixie’


MOUNT VERNON, Ohio – Sunday evening may have been the swan song for the Dan Emmett Music and Arts Festival in Knox County. After a 32 year run, some critics have suggested that the celebration’s namesake, Dan Emmett, needs to go because in 1859 the Mount Vernon native wrote the song “Dixie,” which became the anthem of the Confederacy, and because he was involved in minstrel shows.


Emmet is also known for “Old Dan Tucker” and “Turkey in the Straw.”

Joe Rinehart, this year’s Board Chairman for the festival, gave the details. He told The Ohio Star, “My understanding is the conversation [about the name change] started around two years ago.” Rinehart shared that the general view of Emmett’s life and legacy may not be entirely accurate.


“There is a claim the Snowden family, an African American family, wrote the song [Dixie] as a spiritual anthem. They were friends with Emmett,” Rinehart said.

Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem, a book by Howard and Judith Sacks, provides details about the possible history of the origins of “Dixie.” In fact, their research suggests there is much about the history of “Dixie” and of racial relations in the mid-nineteenth century that modern Americans have misunderstood.

The Sacks note the central theme of their book is, “…the significant interplay across race and region that shaped not only the Snowden’s lives but also those of most Americans in this period.” About the song they wrote, “…many African Americans in Knox County, Ohio consider the Snowden family the source, not necessarily the authors, of ‘Dixie’.”

The book provides evidence of interaction between Emmett and the Snowdens before “Dixie” became famous in 1859 and, that there was “…an active exchange and borrowing of musical ideas and songs from the Snowdens.” Ideas and songs were not only exchanged and borrowed with Emmett, but also with other well known minstrel bands of the day, leading to a clear connection between African Americans and some, if not much, of the minstrel music performed in black-face by white musicians.

For more evidence of the link between Snowdens and Emmett, Sacks found a gravestone in the Snowden family plot not far from where Dan Emmett is buried that says,

Ben      Lew


They taught “Dixie” to Dan Emmett

Mount Vernon residents have their thoughts about the issue of renaming the festival.

Diane Holley called it “political correctness run amok,” when she spoke to The Ohio Star about the attempts to hide and revise history happening all across the United States and now in her small town. “Those statues [confederate monuments being removed], they’re trying to erase history. The Civil War is part of our history, a defining moment,” she said.

Her husband John noted, “If the only people we can have statues of are perfect people, then we’ll only have statues of Jesus.”

Another local, Jody Pritchard, shared her recollection of the Emmett story: “You know that there is a conspiracy theory that Dan Emmett stole the song from a black family. I think they should just add the black family’s name and provide people with the story and let people decide if it’s true because there’s no way to prove it either way.”

Joe Rinehart said the conversation about changing the name will begin soon. “We already did a survey back in late June and early July and got some feedback from over 650 people.” Fifty-three percent of the people responding wanted to change the name. Thirty-four percent wanted to leave it the same. Thirteen percent were not sure.

“I think our community tends to lean conservative but we also pride ourselves on being able to work together,” Rinehart said, noting the Democratic Mayor Dick Mavis, Kenyon College and Mount Vernon Nazarene University are all part of the festival board. “We haven’t put together our timeline yet. The rebrand discussion process will be a community effort.”

Fred Dailey, Ohio’s former Agriculture Director, born and bred in Knox County, weighed in on the controversy. “I would be very surprised, and disappointed, if Dan Emmett was dropped from his namesake festival. He has been a celebrated celebrity in our county for over a century. The residents of our community are not into tearing down statues and rewriting history, rather we choose to learn from our past.”

He added, “To change the name would require the support of our elected officials. We don’t elect milquetoasts, and if by chance they do get wobbly on us, it will be to their political peril.”

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Beth Lear is a reporter at The Ohio Star.  Follow Beth on Twitter.  Email tips to [email protected].









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One Thought to “Could Be Last Year for Mount Vernon’s Dan Emmett Festival, Due to Authorship of Southern Folk Song ‘Dixie’”

  1. Britney

    Mount Vernon Ohio is the birth place and home of a real celebrity Paul Lynde and the festival needs to be renamed for him and his life celebrated. Dan Emmett is a disgrace and needs to go.