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High Schools Keep, Kill Confederate Symbolism

Some high schools around the nation rush to eliminate their use of the Confederate flag or “Rebels” nicknames. Others take their stand.

Prompted by the church shooting in Charleston in which racist gunman Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans, the resultant public outcry caused the removal of the Confederate flag from a flagpole on the South Carolina Capitol grounds, as well as its removal from Disney theme parks.

On Wednesday in Vestavia, Alabama, a meeting between citizens and the Vestavia Hills Board of Education discussed whether to let the city’s high school retain its Rebel Man mascot. The majority of participants approved keeping the mascot while a minority called the mascot symbolic of racism. Three black students who have played the part of the mascot supported keeping it; one, Calvin Wright, the first black student to assay the part before he graduated in 2012, said, “What happened in the past happened in the past; that’s why it’s called history.”

The district considered changing the mascot in 2000, but the school board’s attorney argued that no change should be implemented. Former Vestavia Hills High School Principal Cas McWaters told the Wednesday meeting, “Maybe we need to learn a lesson from our students and stop seeing racism at every turn. I hope you do not choose to destroy our students’ sense of community by abandoning our name.” State Sen. Jabo Waggoner pointed out that any mascot could offend a particular person, adding, “I’m here supporting the legacy, the history of Vestavia Hills High School since 1971. We are the Rebels. We need to remain the Rebels. If we change the mascot, what’s next?”

In Hurley, Virginia, the high school Rebels logo depicts the Confederate flag flying from a sword; the high school’s Facebook page features its football players running onto the field carrying the Confederate flag after they ran through a homecoming banner displaying a drawing of the Confederate battle flag. Hurley high principlal Pamela Dotson said, “Since all of this has come about, our community has stood behind the logo and the flag. If you did a survey, I doubt you’d find a single person who’d want to change it.” She explained that the community regarded the current furor over the flag as “just about politics and ignorance about the true meaning of the flag,” adding, “The folks that chose our mascot were not pro-slavery. They were not racist. Nothing malicious or ill-minded was intended.”

On the other hand, Southside High in Arkansas lost its “Rebels” nickname last month when a school board committee forced the issue; the board also immediately called upon the school to stop using “Dixie,” the Confederate anthem, as its fight song.

Seven Kentucky high schools: Allen Central, Atherton, Boone County, Boyle County, Casey County, Owen County, and Todd County Central use the “Rebels” nickname. At Allen Central High School, old logos and photos with the Confederate flag were eliminated, although the school’s mascot has not been changed.

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