Emotions and passions are running high following a request to the Effingham County Board of Education to end the use of the Rebels name and the playing of “Dixie” as a fight song at Effingham County High School.
With a packed BoE auditorium, members of the Effingham NAACP urged school board members to drop the Rebels name and “Dixie” as a fight song, along with discontinuing the use of the Confederate flag in association with ECHS.
“These symbols point to a system of overt racism and they do not accurately represent all students,” said Bishop Franklin Blanks, pastor First Union Baptist Church in Guyton.
“It is a symbol of hate and racism because of the many acts under that banner,” Leroy Lloyd, president of the Effingham NAACP, said of the Confederate flag.
Blanks said African-American students back in the 1990s refused to play “Dixie” and opted out of the band “because there was no other way around it.”
“It impeded their educational experience,” he said.
Blanks and Lloyd implored the school board to call for the end of the use of the Confederate flag in association with Effingham County High School.
“This association of this banner to the Confederacy will never be erased,” Blanks said.
But the vast majority of the crowd Tuesday night appeared to support keeping the Rebels nickname and the continued playing of “Dixie.” Robin Screen, a recent ECHS grad who has started an online petition to keep the name and fight song, said his motives had nothing to do with racism.
“I’m not here to offend anybody,” he said. “That’s what not any of what I started is about. I started the petition to bring people together.”
Screen said his petition has collected more than 6,500 names.
“What I want to make clear is I’m not trying to associate anything we have with racism,” he said. “Everything we have is about school pride.”
Screen acknowledged the use of the Rebel flag can have a racist connotation. But as for the Rebel Rousers, the group of students who back Effingham County High athletics are known to brandish the flag, those actions are not connected to the school and aren’t racist in nature.
“That is not who we are, though,” he said. “We are proud to be from Effingham County. The Rebel Rousers are completely voluntarily. It was the students’ choice to fly the Rebel flag. It is not something put together by the school.”
Stephen Turner also spoke in favor of keeping the Rebels name.
“This is Effingham County, Georgia, and on the north end, we are the Rebels,” he said. “Why change something that ain’t broke?”
Mary Woods, a 1991 graduate of Effingham County High School, asked if a compromise could be reaced.
“I was born and raised in Effingham County,” said Woods, who is African-American. “I started out a Guyton Gator. I ended up a Panther and I ended up as a Rebel. I didn’t go to Effingham County because of the Rebel flag. That flag didn’t mean anything to me. It gave me the inspiration to fight.”
Effingham Superintendent Randy Shearouse said the school system decided back in the 2000s to de-emphasize the Rebels as the school mascot and use a capital E as the school emblem.
“There is not an official mascot,” he said.
Shearouse also said the school system does not promote the use of the Rebel flag.
School board chairman Lamar Allen told the crowd the board would not vote on the issue that night but will reach a decision in the future.
“We’re going to take what was said under consideration,” he said.
NAACP members reiterated their call for the school to dissociate itself from the Rebels, the Confederate soldier emblem, the Confederate battle flag and “Dixie” as a fight song.
“The battle is not for us alone,” Lloyd said, “but for all true freedom-loving Americans living in Effingham County. We desire an Effingham where all citizens can live without fear, without racism, with the freedom to live, work and play in peace and harmony. We do not believe displaying the Confederate flag and the symbols of the Confederacy perpetuate that ideal.”
For more, see the Aug. 26 edition of the Effingham Herald.