Since the mass shooting by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina last month, symbols like the Confederate flag have come under renewed scrutiny. In Vestavia Hills, it’s the high school’s rebel mascot — sometimes called Colonel Reb or The Rebel Man — that’s drawing national attention. WBHM’s Dan Carsen went to an emotional public forum last night. He sits down to discuss and analyze it with News Director Rachel Lindley. You can listen above, or read a transcript, listen to a two-minute spot, or listen to the entire meeting below.
RL: Hi Dan.
DC: Hi Rachel.
RL: So, in response to some criticism in the media and in the community, last night the Vestavia School Board held a meeting where people could make their cases about the high school’s “Rebel Man” mascot — whether to replace it or keep it. What are some of the big takeaways from the meeting?
DC: Well for one, people really, really care about the mascot. The meeting was set to start at six, but people were already there three or four hours before that, and the doors didn’t open ’til 5, and when they did, a room built for almost 200 filled up pretty quickly. A lot of people ended up waiting outside. Vestavia clearly puts a high value on tradition, and on symbols.
RL: Would you say most of the people at the meeting wanted to keep the rebel mascot or change it?
DC: I’d say more people wanted to keep the mascot. But a few speakers and people I spoke with privately told me they or their kids want a different mascot, but were scared to speak up. Vestavia is a tightly knit place, and no one wants to anger their neighbors. And of course, most kids don’t want to be ostracized. But Dean Paul, a 1976 graduate of Vestavia High asked people to remember what he says students and educators were thinking at the time:
PD: “It did not in our hearts, then or now, represent the shameful times of slavery or the racial issues of the day. I think the most compelling reason for no change would be the 45-year history of no problems. There are no gang wars or no gangs. There’s no riots. We don’t even have any graffiti to suggest that somebody’s really objecting to our symbols.”
DC: Several African-American former students spoke in favor of keeping the mascot, and most of the rebel-mascot supporters called for a student vote. The other side says that’s a ploy because most kids’ll vote the way their parents want them to — to keep the mascot. But big-picture issues of context kept coming up, too. Parent Kira Fonteneau said she moved to Vestavia for the school system but doesn’t want her daughter subjected to symbols from a time when she’d be “viewed as less than human.” And Colleen Burroughs, a white parent, said people who say “heritage not hate” are forgetting an important part of the story:
CB: “They didn’t pick the cotton. There’s two sides to the heritage. Our Southern heritage is paid for by both blood of soldiers and blood of slaves.”
RL: Wow. Big-picture issues of race and history are playing out across the country and right here. So clearly the Vestavia school board and the city at large have a lot to think about.
DC: No doubt. I wish we had more time. By the way, audio from the two-hour meeting is up on our website.
RL: So what’s the final word, Dan?
DC: Right now, all we know for sure is that superintendent Sheila Phillips plans to make her recommendation to the Board on whether to keep the mascot by the end of this month.
RL: And we’ll keep you up to date with more news on this developing story. Thanks, Dan.
DC: Thank you, Rachel. Any time.
To listen to the short local news spot, click below:
To listen to the entire meeting, click below: