The Case for Keeping the Rebel Mascot

To Editor, Newton County Enterprise

I have recently come across an open letter written by South Newton alumnus Brandon Storey of the class of 2003 to the South Newton community. Storey’s letter scrutinizes the Rebel mascot and related iconography of South Newton and attempts to persuade the reader to support the claim that it is time to remove the Rebel mascot from the school. There is no doubt that Mr. Storey’s letter has been influenced by the current racial and political climate that has developed across the country for the past several weeks. What appears to be a well-meant attempt to peacefully sow racial and social justice is rather another subtle Marxist attempt at the censure and erasure of American history and symbolism from which we all can be educated. The arguments for removing the Rebel mascot are merely shallow and hollow acts of virtue signaling by their proponents in order to score a few social justice points from the “woke” mob. Mr. Storey accounts the history of the Rebel mascot as an “ill-considered attempt at good-natured humor” and ascribes implicit complacency of racism so long as South Newton maintains its traditions and iconography.

South Newton Jr.-Sr. High School was established in 1966 as a consolidation of Kentland, Goodland, and Brook schools and the surrounding communities in an attempt to provide a better educational institution to these respective communities. Kentland, Brook, and Goodland each had their own identities with differing mascots, colors, and anthems. With the creation of this new institution that is South Newton, entirely new unifying elements had to be established so that students from Kentland shared an identity with students from Goodland and Brook. The student governments of these schools democratically determined the school colors and mascot of South Newton. The folklore of Newton County goes that South Newton would identify itself with the Rebel mascot and the soon-to-be established North Newton would identify itself with the Yankee mascot and related themes and icons. However, we all know that was not the course of history as North Newton’s mascot is instead the Spartan. South Newton still adhered to its mascot after the opportunity to reconsider came up circa 1969 when North Newton came to be. To suggest that the establishment of the Rebel mascot, a decision made during the political climate of Lyndon Johnson administration and not that of Antebellum America, represents South Newton as a racist institution is disingenuous to say the least.

A rebel can be defined as a person who resists authority, control, or convention. Perhaps this was something considered when the Rebel mascot was proposed in 1966. South Newton High School was the first of its kind in the area. Breaking from tradition of rural towns’ schools with a small student population and a proportionally small faculty and curriculum, South Newton sought to be a modern paragon of education for its community, offering core curriculum in mathematics, science, and language arts but also buttressing the education of its students with the visual, performance, and vocational arts, foreign language, and business and entrepreneurial endeavors. It is within the context of American history that we read the Rebel mascot as being “offensive” as the Confederacy was the rebellion in the American Civil War. South Newton as an educational institution is in a unique position such that it can point to itself by way of its mascot in educating students on the immorality of slavery and how it is antithetical to the prescriptions of the United States Constitution and American philosophy. The critics of the Rebel mascot like Mr. Storey, and those who wish to posit America as inherently racist and discriminatory do not recognize that slavery as an institution has existed in all societies throughout human civilization, and even exists in some societies today. It was Western society vis-à-vis America that determined slavery was utterly reprehensible and needed to be eradicated from its society. If America were in fact inherently racist, it would not have gone to war with itself and fought the bloodiest battle in its history to end the institution that unequivocally exemplifies racism.

Upon entering South Newton, guests aren’t greeted with portraits and placards of Jefferson Davis or members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Confederate flag is no longer flown on the flagpole. Instead, murals of the school community and dramatic productions and memorials to deceased students grace the halls of the institution. Critics of the Rebel mascot like Mr. Storey “peacefully” demand that changes such as the removal of the mascot are executed. However, as we have seen in every major city across America in recent weeks, peaceful demands seem to quickly escalate to anarchical force and destruction that goes far beyond the initial demand. In recent days, “demonstrators” have either called for the removal of statues or have been removing statues themselves, the latter of course is an act of vandalism and should be addressed with legal action. These statues largely are of prominent Confederate figures; however, the Marxists don’t stop there. Statues of Christopher Columbus, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln are fair game in the censorship war that seeks to maintain the intellectual “safety” of these “demonstrators.” Personally, I am against the removal of statues of any kind; however, if through the proper and democratic channels a community decides to remove a statue, I cannot dispute that decision. In this call to remove anything that makes a person feel “uncomfortable,” a disservice to providing an education on the matter is being committed. George Orwell’s 1984 perfectly predicts the outcome of these acts of censorship: “every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.”

Let us learn from our history rather than run from it. Those who do not wish to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and those who succeed in censoring and erasing history are destined to control it. I cannot speak on behalf of the alumni any more than Mr. Storey can. South Newton is not without its faults, but the removal of its mascot should not be the top of the list for improvements to be made. Today we debate the integrity and ethics of American iconography in the halls of South Newton High School. Tomorrow, we may have this debate at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.

Zach Willhite

President, South Newton High School Class of 2014