Schools are now so fearful of racism allegations that making a tree a mascot is considered a concern because black Americans were once hanged using trees.
In Portland, Oregon, Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School has delayed a vote to adopt an evergreen tree as its mascot because some fear such a mascot would be reminiscent of lynching, the Portland Tribune reported. The school’s current mascot is the Trojans but was set to be changed to evergreens following the suggestion from a committee “comprised of students, staff and community members,” the outlet reported.
“But just before the Portland Public Schools Board of Education’s vote to approve the new mascot Tuesday, March 30, Director Michelle DePass shared community concerns of an unwanted correlation between Ida B. Wells—the historic Black activist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who documented and crusaded against lynching—and a tree which could conjure up reminders of hanging people with ropes from branches,” the Tribune reported.
DePass asked the mascot committee if they considered any concerns when coming up with the new mascot.
“I think everyone comes with blind spots and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot,” she said.
It is unclear just how many community members expressed concern about a connection between a tree as a mascot and lynching – or whether those concerns were genuine.
Mascot committee member Martin Osborne told the Tribune that the lynching connection was discussed, but those concerns were put to rest.
“We did talk about it, but we were looking at the symbolism more as a tree of life, than a tree of death,” Osborne, who is black, said in response to DePass’ comments. “You could certainly take it either way, depending upon your position.”
Osborne added that the committee’s suggestion of the evergreen “had nothing to do with the horrible history of lynching in the United States.”
“Lynching trees typically are not evergreens,” Osborne informed the committee, explaining that trees with larger lower branches were what were used in the south.
DePass, who is also black, called on other board members to agree with her in viewing the new mascot as a racist symbol.
“Lynching is a really difficult topic to talk about and as a sole Black board member, I invite you, beg you, implore you to join me in disrupting the situations, practices, that are racist. I can’t do this by myself,” she said, according to the Tribune.
Filip Hristic, the Wells-Barnett High School’s principal, told the board that Wells’ family has generally been supportive of the school’s attempts to honor her legacy, though he said he, too, worried about the perceived connection to lynching.
“We take this seriously and I definitely want to follow that commitment to protect, preserve and promote the legacy of Ida B. Wells,” Hristic said, adding that the Wells-Barnett family hadn’t been contacted about the mascot.
“The focus and opportunity was really to marry this sentiment that we heard from a lot of our stakeholders during our naming process, which was the desire for a local connection,” Hristic added. “Ida B. Wells was somebody who stood strong and stood proud against what Woodrow Wilson and many others promoted.”