Portland High School Fears Potential New Tree Mascot Could Be Racist

Portland High School Fears Potential New Tree Mascot Could Be Racist Portland High School Fears Potential New Tree Mascot Could Be Racist Evergreen trees. (Dreamstime)

By Nick Koutsobinas | Tuesday, 06 April 2021 10:08 PM

In Portland, local Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School is in a dilemma whether its choice of a new mascot, an Evergreen over its former Trojan mascot, would be racist, according to the Portland Tribune.

Following the high school's adoption of a new namesake Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, a committee of staff, students, and community members decide on a new mascot to accompany the new name over its former title as Woodrow Wilson High School. Ida B. Wilson was a civil rights activist and investigative journalist and a founding member of the NAACP.

The committee proposed evergreens as the new mascot. But some are concerned the trees, when contrasted with the new namesake, suggest images of lynching.

According to the Portland Tribune, Ellen Whatmore, a teacher and mascot committee member at Wells-Barnett High School, said in a resolution, "Evergreens are characterized by the life-giving force of their foliage, the strength of their massive trunk, and the depth of their roots — in an individual tree and as a forest of trees … They provide shelter and sustenance. They have histories that preclude us and will continue in perpetuity after we are no more."

But before the vote on March 30 could be brought to Portland Public School Board of Education, board director Michelle Depass said to one committee member, "I'm wondering if there was any concern with the imagery there, in using a tree … as our mascot? … I think everyone comes with blind spots and I think that might've been a really big blind spot."

Wells-Barnet High School Principal Filip Hristic told the board, "We take this seriously and I definitely want to follow that commitment to protect, preserve and promote the legacy of Ida B. Wells."

Hristic went on to say how the tree was meant to represent the school's local identity.

"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 said, but voiced concerns within the community, saying, "Ida B. Wells was somebody who stood strong and stood proud against what Woodrow Wilson and many others promoted."

Martin Osborne, committee member who is Black, told the school board, "We did talk about it, but we were looking at the symbolism more as a tree of life, than a tree of death … You could certainly take it either way, depending upon your position."

Osborne said the committee had discussed the potential symbolic connection between the school's new namesake and the ideas of lynching associated with it. But of the 420 suggestions the committee received, he said the evergreen was the best way to represent the high school.

Osborne added that the choice of an evergreen "had nothing to do with the horrible history of lynching in the United States … Lynching trees typically are not evergreens."