Portland High School Worried Evergreen Tree Mascot Could Symbolize Lynching
Portland Public Schools Board of Education delayed adopting a high school’s new mascot of an evergreen tree after concerns arose from board members that the tree might have a negative connotation because of its alleged ties to “lynching.”
According to the Portland Tribune, Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School in Southwest Portland was set to vote on the new mascot last Tuesday after a committee deemed their old mascot, the Trojans, controversial.
The committee, which includes students, staff and community members proposed the “evergreens” be the school’s new mascot. When it came time to vote, Director Michelle DePass, shared community concerns that the evergreen tree could symbolize lynching and that this suggestion came with a “blind spot.”
“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. “I think everyone comes with blind spots and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot.”
One of the committee members, Martin Osborne, who is also black, defended the evergreen tree as the high school’s new mascot and said it represents a “tree of life,” not a “tree of death.”
“We did talk about it, but we were looking at the symbolism more as a tree of life, than a tree of death,” Osborne told the school board. “You could certainly take it either way, depending upon your position.”
Osborne continued to defend the committee’s idea of the evergreen tree and said their decision “had nothing to do with the horrible history of lynching in the United States.”
“Lynching tress typically are not evergreens,” added Osborne, who later acknowledged that deciduous trees were more commonly used to hang black people in the south, the Portland Tribune reported.
However, Osborne’s statements failed to sit well with DePass and the renaming and mascot committee decided to delay the vote until the next board meeting.
“Lynching is a really difficult topic to talk about and as a sole Black board member, I invite you, beg you, implore you to join me in disrupting the situations, practices, that are racist. I can’t do this by myself,” said DePass.
School Principal Filip Hristic told the school board “We take this seriously and I definitely want to follow that commitment to protect, preserve and promote the legacy of Ida B. Wells.”
“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,” said Principal Hristic, who later claimed that the evergreen tree is a great choice in capturing a local connection in the school’s identity.