The school’s current mascot is the Trojans, but a committee consisting of students, staff, and community members arrived at the evergreens as the new mascot of what’s now called Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, the Portland Tribune reported.
“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,” Ellen Whatmore, a teacher at the high school and mascot committee member, read from a resolution, according to the Tribune. “They provide shelter and sustenance. They have histories that preclude us and will continue in perpetuity after we are no more.”
But the outlet said that just prior to last Tuesday’s vote by the Portland Public Schools Board of Education to approve the new mascot, Director Michelle DePass shared community concerns that evergreens could connote lynching — particularly since new namesake Wells-Barnett was a black activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote about and spoke against lynching.
“I’m wondering if there was any concern with the imagery there, in using a tree … as our mascot?” DePass asked the renaming and mascot committee, the Tribune noted. “I think everyone comes with blind spots, and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot.”
School Principal Filip Hristic told the board that “we take this seriously, and I definitely want to follow that commitment to protect, preserve, and promote the legacy of Ida B. Wells,” adding that the committee hadn’t spoken to the Wells-Barnett family specifically about the mascot, the outlet reported.
“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, according to the Tribune. “Ida B. Wells was somebody who stood strong and stood proud against what Woodrow Wilson and many others promoted.”
Martin Osborne — who is black and is one of the committee members — said the group discussed the potential lynching connection between Wells-Barnett and evergreen trees “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,” the outlet reported.
Osborne added that the evergreen choice “had nothing to do with the horrible history of lynching in the United States,” the Tribune noted.
“Lynching trees typically are not evergreens,” he also said, according to the outlet.