A local civil rights activist lodged state and federal complaints against a North Texas high school over its Confederacy focused team mascot, the Rebel. In response, hundreds of parents, students and other supporters showed up on Sunday afternoon for an impromptu rally to defend the mascot from criticism that it is a divisive symbol of the Confederacy.
“Save Our Richland Rebels” organized the Richland High School rally over Facebook after Fort Worth civil rights activist Rev. Kyev Tatum filed the complaints against the district with the US Department of Education and the Texas Education Agency over school’s mascot and spirit groups.
Tatum wants the campus to change the longstanding spirit symbols from the Dixie Belles and Johnny Rebs because they are associated with the slavery South. He also wants any confederate symbols removed from the Tarrant County campus. He believes these school traditions have a negative effect on the academic success of children of color.
Tatum is president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). His actions draw Richland High School in to a bigger controversy fueled over the confederate flag. His complaint says it wants all Confederate references gone by the first day of school noted KDFW-4.
However, the racially diverse crowd that gathered at the Fort Worth area Birdville Independent School District administration building did not agree with Tatum. They do not equate the mascots with anything divisive, or feel violated and denigrated by the spirit group names.
Student Keauna Willis sported a Dixie Belles T-shirt and told KXAS-5: “I really don’t want to change our name. What would we be other than Dixie Belles?” She is African American.
A white male parent said: “To be a Rebel has nothing to do with the Confederate army.”
Rally participant Larry Partin voiced his concerns to KXAS-5: “My largest conviction about this is there is a gentleman that purports to represent a faith-based organization, and what he is attempting to do in our community is create racial hatred and strife. He added, “and that’s not what we have found here, we’ve had kids here for seven years.”
Mascot supporter Allen Hearrean called the frenzy to erase all symbols of the South “a cultural cleansing.” He told KTVT-11: “Pretty soon being a Texan will be a racist.”
Many who attended the rally commented that the confederate flag is not part of the school logo, and they hoped to disassociate the word, “rebel” from the Confederacy. Some rallied at the event with the confederate flag but they emphasized to media that the day was about the mascot and not the flag.
“The confederate flag has been used as a sign of hate,” said parent Aaron Griffith. “It’s time to get rid of that, but the Rebs and all that stuff, I don’t think matters that much.”
“When I think of ‘rebel,’ I don’t think of the Confederate flag and stuff,” said Richland High sophomore Darian Petty, who told KDFW-4:“I think of it as just like any other mascot.” The African American teen called it “our tradition.”
KDFW-4 also spoke to a frustrated father who called Tatum’s claims “a bunch of garbage” and yet another reason for someone to “get up on their soapbox.”
Breitbart Texas spoke with Tatum by phone and asked how children of color were specifically hurt by the school mascots and spirit groups. He called the school emblem and spirit team Dixie Belles and Johnny Rebs “symbols of white supremacy.” He said they send the wrong messages. He objects to a stars and bars flag design. He alleged it is veiled racism. “We have to shut it down,” Tatum said.
Despite strong public opposition to his plea, Tatum expressed concerns over these symbols for another reason. He told Breitbart Texas it was not just that they were part of a Confederate past that he stood against them but because they promote rebellion.
“Why do parents promote rebellion against authority in a public school?” He said that goes for “white, black, and brown.”
Nonetheless, people are upset with Tatum’s actions. They plan to urge Birdville ISD district leaders to fight the complaint at the July 23 school board meeting.
Many at the rally signed a petition that event organizers plan to present to the school board to push back on Tatum’s campaign. The petition reads:
“I support the Richland ‘Rebel’ mascot and other names including the Dixie Belles and Johnny Rebs. A Mascot is what you make it, a name is how you live it! We don’t just talk ‘equality,’ WE LIVE ‘EQUALITY,’ a lesson the rest of the country could learn from us. Go Rebels!”
As of press time, the Facebook page has 6,333 likes.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.