School Board Vote: FCHS Rebel Mascot Prevails
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the Oct. 12 meeting, the Franklin County School Board voted 5 to 3 to reject a motion by board member Linda Jones “to change the [Franklin County High School] mascot, do away with the Confederate flag, do away with ‘Dixie,’ and do away with our Southern gentleman.” Prior to the vote, seven speakers voiced opinions on the appeal to change the Rebel mascot, a debate that began over four months ago.
A poll at Franklin County High School (FCHS) showed 19.2 percent of students and 28.9 percent of faculty and staff in favor of changing the mascot. Almost equal numbers of both groups had no opinion, 16.8 percent of students and 17.8 percent of faculty and staff.
Speaking on behalf of changing the mascot, Chris Colane said, “The public does not vote on special education classes or whether classes for the minority of students with special needs is desirable…These issues are mandated by legislation just as federal prohibition of discrimination is federally mandated…the Rebel mascot is indeed discriminatory.”
Tanya Hill cited her family genealogy, “I’m English, Irish, Native American, and who knows what other nationalities…There’s never been hatred [within the family] over my ancestors killing one another… Why? Because you can’t change it…The hatred before the board should not convince you to change our fight song.”
“Black lives matter is not a civil rights organization, but a political one,” insisted Candice Jenkins referencing Dr. Carol Swain. Pointing to “the actions of black lives matter and terrorists that include rioting, arson and looting…[who] call it a protest,” Jenkins said, “one could argue our school board is in fact negotiating with terrorists.”
Michael Bradford spoke about his family’s roots as area farmers and their relationship with a neighboring black farm family who would come for Sunday dinner. “Sadly, the two families did not sit together…Later in life, Pa said that was one of his biggest regrets.” But Bradford went on to argue for keeping the mascot—“It is not fair for once culture to infringe upon the rights of others, offended or not.”
Terrence Martin, a former FCHS basketball star, acknowledged he was not offended by the Rebel symbolism as a student. But Martin said later he came to “reflect on where I came from and how I was impacting myself [as a young black man]. That tune of ‘Dixie’ is in my head today. I can say it by heart. I didn’t know what that tune meant until after leaving this area.”
Shanae Williams, founder of the current movement to change the Rebel mascot, challenged the board to uphold the code of conduct of board members. “It clearly states you will think and act for the children and that means all children…In 1950, all parties were not included in the decision to become Rebels...I’m challenging you to make the right changes, to be on the right side of history.”
Former Rebel Pride band member, 1988 FCHS graduate, and 28-year school system employee, Sheri Smith confessed, “Growing up, I didn’t think anything about the name Rebel or the Confederate flag or playing ‘Dixie.’ I’d never had experiences that made those things negative to me…I assumed everyone felt the way I did.” Smith closed citing poet Maya Angelou, “When you know better, do better.”
In her motion to “do away with” the Rebel mascot, Dixie, and the Confederate flag, Jones called the three symbols “a package deal.” “We cannot accept a compromise…We’ve tried to do away with some of it, and it always comes back...It’s our duty to meet the needs of every student.”
Board member Sarah Marhevsky seconded Jones motion.
None of the board members gave a reason for voting as they did: Jones, yes; Chris Guess, no; CleiJo Walker, no; Lance Williams, no; Christine Hopkins, no; Casey Roberts, no; Marhevsky, yes; Sarah Liechty, yes.
Following the vote, Director of Schools Stanley Bean said, “I’ve tried to remain neutral.” Bean stressed he supported both sides and understood the arguments of both sides. But Bean insisted he resented use of the word “they.” “Who is ‘they’? ‘They’ is not Franklin County. ‘We’ are Franklin County…We need education on culture for both sides.”