The embattled Franklin County (Tennessee) High School Rebel mascot will remain after a vote to replace him failed 5-3 on Monday night at the county school board meeting.
The board met Oct. 12 on the challenge to the team mascot and Rebel name and symbols, described by some in Franklin County to be offensive for its ties to the Confederacy. The mascot was called into question in July when a petition was filed and four speakers addressed the school board.
The Rebel — also known as Mr. Rebel, the Southern Gentleman or Col. Rebel — has been the high school mascot since 1950 and the name Rebels is on team uniforms, fan wear, equipment and featured in other sports programs and activities.
In the long-awaited roll call vote on a motion to remove the Rebel mascot, the song "Dixie," the "Southern Gentleman" image and a Confederate flag element on the school seal from the high school, its teams and band, school board members Chris Guess, Cleijo Walker, Lance Williams, Christine Hopkins and Caycee Hanger Roberts voted to keep the symbols, while Sara L. Keichty, Sarah Marhevsky and Linda Jones voted to reject them.
None of the school board members responded this week to requests for comment on the reasoning behind their votes. Board members did not discuss the issue before they voted in the part-virtual, part-in-person board meeting, according to a recording provided to the Times Free Press by the school system.
Former Rebel cheerleader Shanae Williams, a Black former cheerleader at the school and one of the most vocal opponents of the Rebel-related images, wasn't too surprised.
"After hearing a motion and the second for the removal of all things Confederate I had high hopes," Williams said of the vote in an email on Thursday. "However, that was short lived when the chairwoman brought it to be voted on the floor. It's disturbing but it's almost expected."
The stir over the Rebel "exposed real racism in this area," Williams said. The Rebel and images stemming from the Confederacy have no place in local Black history, she said.
"For them to act as if this is our heritage is almost a slap in the face," Williams said. "As much as some members of this community want to ignore it there has never been racial harmony here, and I feel as though the iceberg is now tipped."
Williams said she believes the school board has been breaking state laws, such as the Sunshine Act, by deliberating on the Rebel issue out of public view. She said the issue became a struggle between strong financial contributors to the school and the grassroots movement for changing the mascot.
"We came with facts, we came in unity and it wasn't enough for people who aren't ready still to be inclusive," Williams said. "Battles are sometimes lost in the war. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon and the marathon will continue.
"I am bringing the NAACP chapter back to our community and will continue working with everyone who wants to positively impact Franklin County," Williams said.
Franklin County director of schools Stanley Bean said Friday that he knew of no violations of the Sunshine Law. He said board members in a recent work session talked about the Rebel issue, which was on the work session agenda, for "15 to 20 minutes" before moving on to a long discussion on the system's five-year plan and other matters.
Bean said he would be open to hearing any evidence of violations of open meeting laws.
Tanya Hill and Candace Jenkins, supporters of the existing symbols, called for preserving the school's traditional images at the Oct. 12 meeting.
Hill said Franklin County High students she talked to didn't understand why their school's team name was under fire.
"To teach your children to tolerate issues is to teach your children not to hate," Hill said. She described her own mixed-race ancestry including English, Irish and Native American bloodlines, and said there was no lingering animosity in her family over their different origins.
Jenkins said people should see themselves as Americans, part of a larger picture.
"If we allow identity politics and class dividers and race-baiters to win, there will be no America," she said.
The meeting's first speaker was Christine Colane, who launched the petition to remove the Rebel over the summer. She is the mother of a former "Rebel" who rejected the mascot in the 1990s when other students staged a walkout over calls for change.
Colane warned the board against being swayed by public opinion and said the name and images that are linked to the Confederacy create a situation that violates school system policy.
Former student athlete Terrance Martin talked about his years at Franklin County High School as a Black player who was celebrated for his prowess on the field and court.
Martin said there were "countless times" when parents would give him a pat on the back and say, "Good game" when he performed well for the school, and he called for the same support now in the effort to rid the school of the Confederate symbols.
"Stand with them as you do when a touchdown is scored or when a basket is made," Martin said. "And I say that with the sense of I was one of those who scored many baskets and scored many touchdowns."
After Monday's vote to keep the Rebel and his accouterments, director of schools Bean told board members, "The thing that has come out of this, first of all, there's no winners and losers."
Bean said the debate over the Rebel mascot shows people in Franklin County need to learn more about each other.
"I hope that when this is over people can get together to decide that we need some cultural education," he told the board.
Bean said Friday that he had this idea long before the mascot issue was raised.
"Our county has in my opinion gotten along very well for years. Things like this sometimes can be divisive for the community, and even though you feel like your county's strong and gets along, usually it's people from outside who cause the divisiveness. And I think that's part of what's happened here," he said.
"My plan is to bring together people in our community that I think can get together and sit down at a table to talk about the issues we have in our schools," Bean said.
"As bad as this situation may seem, there'll be something positive come out of it," he said.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.