There are few songs in the American music spectrum that evoke emotional responses; one of those songs is the late 1800’s piece “Dixie.” The words, “way down south in the land of cotton old times there will never be forgotten” evoke for many the history of oppression and white privilege. For one Idaho man, James D. Kirk, 46, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his 2013 conviction on charges of lewd conduct and sexual battery of a minor child, it meant that his conviction was overturned.
It turns out that Canyon County Deputy Prosecutor Erica Kallin’s recitation of “Dixie” lyrics during closing arguments was a bad move. Kallin stated, “Ladies and gentlemen, when I was a kid we used to like to sing songs a lot. I always think of this one song. Some people know it. It’s the ‘Dixie’ song. Right? ‘Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton. Good times not forgotten. Look away. Look away. Look away.’ And isn’t that really what you’ve kind of been asked to do?”
According to the Idaho Court of Appeals this introduced the risk of racial prejudice into the case and the conviction was overturned. The court issued an eight-page decision, which stated in part that Kallin’s statement was “indirect and perhaps innocently made,” any invocation of race, “even if subtle and oblique, may be violate of due process or equal protection.”
In Kirk’s case, the court said, “the prosecutor’s mention of the title, ‘Dixie,’ as well as the specific lyrics recited by the prosecutor, referring to ‘the land of cotton,’ expressly evoke that setting with all its racial overtones.”
The state Attorney General of Idaho is reviewing its options and has until Jan. 9 to file an appeal.