BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — School mascots are intended to evoke pride and nostalgia, and that has certainly been the case at South High School.
South’s sports teams, since midway through the Eisenhower administration, have been the Rebels, and for several decades that mascot name came unabashedly with the full regalia of Confederate symbolism — from the Stars and Bars to a cute. mustachioed cartoon CSA soldier.
There’s nothing cute about what the Confederacy evokes today, however — 300 years of enslavement, Jim Crow and lingering racism.
South High finally, formally stepped away from that Friday afternoon, when a mascot-naming committee announced the fruits of its months-long labor.
Good-bye, Rebels. Hello, Spartans.
That was the winner after nearly a year of informal polling, research and discussion, which eventually whittled down the choices first to three names — Huskies, Storm and Spartans — then the latter two, which the committee kept secret.
The Associated Students made the final call. Committee chairman Fuchsia Ward, a 1963 South High graduate, didn’t have her original suggestion — Diamonds — make it to the finals, but she was emotional about finally banning the Rebels.
Ward said she thinks the Confederate imagery was intentionally political, noting that the school opened just three years after the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education, which ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
South High Principal Connie Grumling made the decision last year that the Rebels mascot had to go and a new tradition started with something less polarizing.
South High joins at least a half-dozen schools around the country — from North Carolina to Texas to Michigan — that have dropped their Rebel mascots in recognition of this era of civil rights awakening.
But it’ll be impossible to rid South of every element of Confederate imagery. Street names around the school still have Civil War-reminiscent names like Monitor and Merrimac, rivals in a famous 1862 naval battle, and the elementary school that feeds into South is called Plantation.
But South High embarks on a new era today, the era of the Spartans, even if it is, at least on the surface, purely symbolic. The lesson on campus here today is that symbols matter.