/Rooting for and rooting out the Confederate mascot in small town Mississippi

Rooting for and rooting out the Confederate mascot in small town Mississippi

Shellman was one of her classmates, the “Confederates”, a nickname for the school and the name given to the Southern army that fought in the 1860s to protect slavery. Shellman said that she didn’t learn about the Confederacy during her school history classes at Confederate Drive. However, she can recall when her parents refused to buy the T-shirt for her middle school. Shellman stated that it was a deeply-rooted issue that people have ignored. It’s almost like everyone knows, but nobody wants the can of worms to open.” A group of parents has petitioned the Lowndes County Schools District to change their mascot after protests across the country against Confederate imagery. Caledonia, a town of approximately 1,400 people, is home to some of the best-ranked schools in the area. This has happened as the quality of the majority Black Columbus Municipal School District fell. Some locals have been upset by attempts to change the name, which started with conversations between military families. They made their objections public through crude comments on a Facebook page. One person said, “Leave Caledonia alone.” “Don’t move to Caledonia if you don’t like their ‘Feds.” Although they can choose between the city or county school systems, almost all parents who live at base send their children to Caledonia. They are the only schools currently sending a bus. Families who are moving to the area to work are also choosing to live in the county district. The school receives A and B grades from Mississippi Department of Education in comparison to many Columbus middle and elementary schools that get Ds and Fs. Caledonia’s mascot is a reference to the proposed government that was founded on the belief that Black people are inferior than white. It became a problem about a decade ago as the district tried to escape a federal consent decree over the unequal education that had continued since integration. It has remained, despite protests at the time. Makade Archibald (white Caledonia resident, father to three, and engineer at a steel mill) said that “it’s honestly… a backwards method of, in my opinion… trying to segregate school.” “By making people who are not of color uncomfortable with this mascot you’re discouraging them to join the school.” Lowndes County Supervisor Harry Sanders represents Caledonia. He made national headlines when he stated that Black Americans in America are the only ones “having problems” due to the fact that they were dependent on white people during the 250 years of slavery. After the board had voted against moving the Confederate monument to Lowndes’ courthouse, Sanders made these inflammatory remarks. Later, the board voted in favor of moving this statue on July 6. Mississippi Today spoke with Shellman, who said that she grew up in Caledonia, where people are generally friendly, and never felt treated differently by anyone because of her skin colour. Shellman stated that she didn’t notice it because it was not something she wanted to. However, Shellman did recall an incident a few years back when a student called her younger brother “the n-word” on the school bus. Shellman stated that it was only after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in May and the national discussion surrounding race that she realized how divided her community really is. She said that she felt “blinded” by recent events, particularly after sharing her views on the current situation and using the hashtag “Black Lives Matter”. I thought everyone thought Black lives were important. I didn’t know that there were opposing views to that.” She added that her parents had always said to me that they believed everyone thought Black lives mattered. Anna Wolfe, a stay-at-home mother of two Amanda Nielson is white and said that she enjoys the feeling of older homes. When her husband was stationed in Columbus by the Air Force three years ago she started looking at houses in the area. They were also less expensive than properties in the county. Nielson stated that she was unable to handle the differences in school quality so she moved out of state. To support her son, 8 years old, she bought T-shirts with the words “Feds” on them. She quickly began to worry about the message that the T-shirts might be transmitting and where they would be worn by her husband. Nielson stated, “And you shouldn’t feel uneasy about something such as that.” Nielson felt the need to learn more about systemic racism after Floyd’s death. Although she wasn’t certain how she would fix inequalities in large, inflexible systems, such as unequal public education and segregated public schools, she stated that she could think of one thing at her school that seemed unfair to a group. She was referring to the Confederate nickname in local schools. She added, “So just within my own spheres of influence, maybe this’s something that can be addressed.” She posted a message in a Facebook group for military personnel, hoping to gauge the opinions of her community about the mascot. But opponents picked up on her post and shared it on a larger platform. This triggered a flood of messages. One commenter said, “This all started because some knotheaded air force mom stuck its nose in some business that it DID NOT belong to in.” Others defend the nickname and suggest that it be changed to “destroy school history.” Anna Wolfe: “You’ve got have to give me an logical reason. Archibald stated that all he hears is “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, History.” Do we really want to preserve history by using high school mascots?” Is this how history preservation works? I just don’t get it. Mississippi Today reached out almost a dozen people on Facebook who expressed opposition to the name-change, but only a handful of them responded or agreed for an interview. Rita Flippo Boykin (a former student) said that she doesn’t support the name change but would like students to have their say. Caledonia parent Jimmy Brewer felt the same, and added, “The ones who want it changed should pay the bill for them all.” Superintendent Sam Allison stated that the Lowndes County School Board will consider changing the name. It will also include a survey on the mascot in its enrollment packets. Nielson explained the purpose of her campaign to change her nickname in plain English to her 6-year-old son and daughter. They then thought about their Black friends and became very sad. Lottie, a cheerleader, asked her mother if she should stop using the phrase “Go Feds!” during her team routines. Nielson stated, “I wish more people felt that way. Not for the politics of this… but on a personal level. If we had conversations with our friends, neighbors, and just say, ‘How do I feel about it?’ and then be open to hearing about their personal experiences.” “I believe that’s where the change of heart comes.” Thomas McAfee who was stationed in Columbus last year said that they were already nervous about moving to Mississippi due to its reputation but were thrilled about the quality schools in Caledonia. Anna Wolfe “It wasn’t until we actually got them registered that we realized their symbol was the Confederates,” Taylor (who is Black) said. “We considered moving them to the Columbus school district.” Another mom, who is Black, struggled to choose where to send her daughter. She enrolled her at Caledonia. It was difficult decision. What are you going to do? What do you do? Or would you send her somewhere she’d be more at ease but have fewer opportunities?” asked the mom. She did not want her name published for fear of being retaliated against her daughter. Her son, who was also a Caledonia native, played basketball on the team before he graduated. She claimed she thought they were a joke because she deliberately cropped out the huge “Caledonia Confederates” lettering from the gym walls in photos of her son on the court. Mississippi Today was told by another Air Force parent, who declined to be identified because he no longer lives in Mississippi, that he enrolled his Black 14 year-old son at Columbus High School, in spite of all base advisors. He wasn’t happy with the education, and sent his son to Colorado to live with his grandparents in his second year of service. Anna Wolfe Lowndes County School district was still covered by a federal consent degree that dates back to the 1970 court order, which permanently prohibited school districts from offering an unequal education or discriminating on the basis of race. The judge was hesitant to grant the unitary status that the district requested. In his order, U.S. District Judge Michael Mills stated that “Simply stated,” the court could not discern any good reason why a Mississippi school would want to associate itself with any divisive symbol or nickname.” Justice Mills stated that Mike Halford, an ex-superintendant, spoke for the district during the hearing. “Simply stated, the court can discern no good reason why a Mississippi public school would want to associate itself with any divisive nickname or symbol,” Justice Mills wrote. Halford claimed that the district had moved away from the Confederates name — using the abbreviated “Feds”, for chants, and some sports jerseys. The judge also gave him points by insisting that the school had not replaced the Confederate soldier’s wall at Caledonia High School’s gymium, which was damaged in a tornado in 2009. Christi Carter, a long-time teacher, said that students had painted the words “Caledonia Confederates” in large red and white letters on the walls of the current building. Judge Halford also looked into the use of “n-words” by students in the district. There had been 26 complaints between 2010 and 2012. Halford said that this was a small number. The judge approved the district’s unitary status and dismissed the original case. This was largely because no one in the community had spoken out against the Confederate macat. As she remembered her son’s younger years, the Columbus mom told Mississippi Today: “You choose your battles.” She didn’t try to fight the Confederate nickname. It’s difficult enough to keep him on the right path and not be seen as a threat. I had my hands full, and that was a challenge I wasn’t equipped to handle at the time.” She said. Mills stated that there were strong feelings on both sides and that officials had chosen to ignore them. “On one side, some will say that we mean no harm and are only honoring the heritage. On the other, another will say that this is a heritage which degrades me.” Anna Wolfe Eighteen years later, the name indicating the South’s failure alliance can still be seen on the gym walls. Allison added that it was a new addition to the area in recent years. Shellman stated that merchandise made by local booster clubs and Dollar General still sells shirts featuring “Caledonia Confederates.” across the front. Students are still subject to racist slurs. “They are basically allowing us, Blacks, to go to a school which represents slavery. Sonniah Ramirez (12 years old), a Caledonia middle schooler, said that there are many racists at the school. She is Black and Hispanic. Ramirez stated that she and her friends were called a n *****.” Ramirez claimed that the student who called her the racial insult this school year was only punished with a written up. She said that “nothing happened.” “They (administrators) didn’t care,” she said. Their sign said “Imprison The Indians”, referring to their opponent, the Itawamba Agriculture High School Indians. Mississippi Today was told by students that the contest’s faculty chose the best float. Alex Hurdle (a senior) recalled that her Black classmate was suspended for using a curse word. However, other students of color often curse with less severe consequences, if any. Allison, the superintendent, stated that he has not had to deal with any of these problems since January. He also said that any form of racial harassment in the district is “a big infraction” and that incidents of such behavior are treated as serious. Shellman, a Caledonia senior, said that her teachers in middle school taught Shellman that the South won the Civil War over the states’ rights. Shellman stated that they taught separate lessons about slavery’s end after the war. It was as if students were expected to make the connections. Shellman stated that she believes her school hid the Confederacy’s history due to the school’s iconography, which subconsciously prevents them from confronting those hard truths. Shellman stated that she has been trying to remind herself not to be angry at people who don’t understand things. Shellman said, “I believe a lot people aren’t fully educated about what’s happening and they just act on their feelings right now.” They feel the world is against their will and it’s more like it’s finally being revealed for what it really is.”