A high school in Portland has delayed a change to its mascot after the city’s public schools director expressed concern that an evergreen tree could be interpreted as a symbol representing lynching.
Just before the vote to confirm the tree as the Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School’s new mascot, Public Schools Board of Education Director Michelle DePass shared her concerns, saying: “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,” she declared.
DePass’ concerns appeared to be related to the school’s name, which comes from Ida Wells-Barnett, the black journalist who documented lynching across the US and co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The school’s name was changed from Woodrow Wilson High School after protests following the death of George Floyd in 2020.
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Employees of the school, however, pointed out that evergreen trees were not historically used for lynching and represent life and community.
Committee member Martin Osborne, who is reportedly African American himself, told DePass that they did “talk about it” but “were looking at the symbolism more as a tree of life, than a tree of death.” The choice of the evergreen has “nothing to do with the horrible history of lynching” in the US, he said, according to the Portland Tribune.
“Lynching trees typically are not evergreens,” he pointed out, while teacher Ellen Whatmore noted that Evergreen trees “are characterized by the life-giving force of their foliage, the strength of their massive trunk, and the depth of their roots,” and “provide shelter and sustenance.”
DePass, however, told the school mascot committee to consult Wells-Barnett’s family on the symbol – delaying the change.
Social media users ridiculed the concern, calling it “beyond absurd” and questioning how a person could even be hanged from an evergreen tree.
Peak ridiculousness. Beyond absurd.
— Uncancelled Jefferson (@ZToobin) April 4, 2021
An evergreen tree is quite possibly the worst tree you could pick to use for a lynching
— Braden Madden (@bradenmadden) April 5, 2021
“Evergreens have no connection to lynching. To say they do is to lie,” another added.
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