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This story was updated to reflect the fact that Christine Colane's daughter did not participate in a walk-out protesting the removal of the Confederate flag and the song "Dixie" as school symbols in the early 1990s.

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Franklin County High School 'Rebel' controversy

 

A small, gray-clad cartoon general — the mascot of the Franklin County High School Rebels in Winchester, Tennessee — has come under fire from a local woman and others who want to get rid of the mascot, the team name and any other symbols related to the Confederacy.

The Rebel, also called Mr. Rebel or Col. Rebel, has been the high school mascot since 1950 and it often has been a lightning rod of controversy, according to Stanley Bean, Franklin County's director of schools.

The 310,000-square-foot high school graduated its first class in 2005, after the old school was retired in favor of a new, larger site. There's no outward sign of the controversial image, but the name exists on a campus road, Rebel Drive.

The name Rebels is on team uniforms, fan wear, equipment and in other sports programs and activities. At least two petitions are seeking its removal.

Christine Colanes daughter was among students who did not join their classmates in a walk-out in protest of removal of the Confederate flag and the song "Dixie" as school symbols. Now Colane's on the move again, seeking to get rid of the remaining offenders she contends still link the school with racism.

In a statement to school board members, Colane said, "I have lived and worked in Franklin County most of my adult life. I have a Master's of Science in Teaching from [Middle Tennessee State University] and am a retired educator and clinical microbiologist. Both my children, now adults, attended Franklin County public schools throughout their education.

"In the early '90s, my daughter's class staged a walk-out at FCHS to protest the Rebel mascot and the use of the Confederate flag," Colane states.

"While the flag was banned, the mascot lived on. When my son graduated from the last class of the 'old' high school, there was broad community expectation that the rebel mascot would be changed in the new high school. This did not happen," she said. "And more recently, the road to the high school was named Rebel Drive. We must put this ongoing insensitivity to the demands of our Black sisters and brothers and their allies behind us. It is time to put an end to this legacy of racial bias and change the mascot today."

In her letter, Colane told board members the time for change is at hand.

"Recent events in our country have prompted a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. We must all be willing to educate ourselves, to reflect on our racial attitudes and be willing to change our behaviors. We can no longer just say, 'I am not a racist.' We must each be willing to take the risk to be actively anti-racist. Many states, businesses, military bases, sports venues and schools are doing just that," she said. "I am calling on the [Franklin County] school board to do just that."

Colane contends the symbols violate school policies against discrimination.

Franklin County Board of Education members did not respond this week to inquiries about their thoughts. The elected panel hasn't formally taken up the issue but expects to in October, once plans for the reopening of schools are complete.

In a public statement delaying a workshop meeting date, a discussion on the mascot that was set for Aug. 3 has been postponed until October, Bean said.

"I think we will best served to wait until October, so we can be fully engaged with this discussion of such importance," he said. "This will also give us time to hear from the our community and make a more informed decision."

Last week, Bean said the issue should be studied and observed and that emotions were high on both sides.

"There's a lot of tradition with the Rebel mascot, and I do understand that the times call for some concerns about that," Bean said. "There's no decision to make yet because there's only been two or three people speaking to board members at a board meeting."

Bean had no prediction on the outcome of the mascot and team name debate.

"It's been a long tradition since 1950, so I don't know what the school board will do," he said.

Bean said he had no authority to make such a change and he was unaware of any existing guidelines for it.

"The mascot itself is a colonel who some say has nothing to do with the Confederacy. I don't really know the history of the mascot we have," Bean said. "So it'll be one of those things we'll see how it goes."

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Read the Project Rebel document

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Shanae Williams, who started a petition for change and was among the authors of the document submitted to the board and other local leaders, "Project Rebel," says it's a fight that "has been going for generations."

"I started the petition one night after all the recent events in the world dealing with racial injustice," Williams said, "after Franklin County hosted a [Black Lives Matter] protest, I thought it was finally time we addressed the elephant in our room our mascot."

The debate in the 1990s was over rebranding the school's team name and mascot "because it will always be tied to the Confederacy and racism," Williams said, noting the school seal bears red bars with stars she says link it to the Confederacy and hate.

Williams described herself as an "FC alumni cheerleader," but stops short when it comes to her own child and any perceptions that people of color participating in local sports automatically translate into their complicity with the racist symbols.

"My daughter will be in ninth grade next year. She is a star athlete already and will not be representing her oppressor or celebrated with Dixie," Williams said. "The rebel man was supposed to be removed back in 2005 when they built the new school. He is now on uniforms, and they put him on the 2020 graduation shirt."

Williams says the debate lacks a discussion about how the symbols make students feel.

"This is not to attack anyone's heritage, but to bring light on what we are truly glorifying and how symbols of oppression should not represent a public institution that includes people of all backgrounds," she said.

With the October meeting waiting in the future, Williams said it's time to remain steadfast.

"The plan now is to not give up nor give in. To keep pushing, keep showing up at meetings, keep speaking out on what's right," she said.

While the matter isn't officially being discussed yet, the call for change erupted in fierce social media debate in the wake of Colane's school board address.

The issue has been discussed on the Franklin County Rebels Facebook page.

"They don't just want to change the mascot they also want to change the name Rebels there's NOTHING racist or offensive about being a Rebel," mascot supporter and local resident Kellie Hall said in one post.

Another mascot and name supporter contends in a post that she feels the Rebels refers to Franklin County residents' rebellious nature and that it unites them.

"Our county stands out against others. I truly believe that our county gets along better than any county in the state of Tennessee. Whatever color you are, we all get along. I really feel like we are true rebels because we go against society," Franklin County High graduate and Winchester resident Roxi Branch said in a post. "They may push us to change. But no matter what, we will always be rebels."

But the argument that the longstanding symbol and name are part of school history doesn't sit well with others.

"The fact that y'all seem to care more about names [and] symbols than the feelings of actual human beings truly amazes me. Not surprised though," said Franklin High graduate and local resident Nikki Wells in a post.

Franklin High graduate Stephanie Hebert was shocked by the comments and "how racist y'all sound."

"Mascot and a school name should be something that brings everyone together and feel whole, not divided," Hebert posted. "In 1990 it was protested to change. Honestly should have changed a long, long time ago."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

PROJECT REBEL DEMANDS FOR CHANGE

Demands of Change: Remove all sounds and symbols of anything resembling or connected to the Confederacy.

We ask that the school board adopt as official policy and fully implement these recommendations under the school/student code of conduct:

1. Prohibit/discontinue the song and sound of 'Dixie' in any FCHS sponsored, affiliated activities/events, and school functions (pep rallies, sporting events, parades, etc).

2. Rebel mascot (the name, symbol, all signage, etc) - A mascot is anything that is used to represent a group with a common public identity. The 'Rebel,' symbol and name, is a depiction and symbolic representation of a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. At the time of Franklin County's inception, in the 1950s [before the significant ruling of Brown v Board of Education in 1954], the student body was intentionally composed of only white students. Therefore, the mascot as a whole, specifically considering Franklin Co. School System's history of overt racial oppression, that resulted in a prolonged period of segregation, does not represent the Franklin County School System of today. The Confederates' and the 'states-rights' which they fought for included the categorization of African-Americans as property to enslave, instead of a human being with the capability to fully exercise their rights as an American citizen.

3. The school seal - The school seal is designed with stars and stripes that are indicative, via design and formation, of a strong relationship with the Confederate flag. Any symbol(s) that appear connected to the Confederacy, or resemble Confederate symbols, which represents the high school [a public institution] is egregious and should not be commemorated in any sense.

Source: Project Rebel summary written by Shanae Williams seeking removal of "sounds and symbols of anything resembling or connected to the Confederacy."

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