A Confederate battle flag flies above a Hays Rebel fan’s pickup at a football game in 2010. The flag is banned on Hays CISD campuses. (Photo by Cyndy Slovak-Barton)
by KIM HILSENBECK
Following a vandalism incident at Hays High School in which two 14-year-olds are accused of writing racially motivated graffiti and urinating on the classroom door of a black teacher, the Hays CISD community appears once again divided over the use of the school’s Confederate imagery.
Some parents and community members are calling for the removal of the Rebel mascot and the school’s fight song, “Dixie,” saying they contribute to an attitude of racial intolerance.
But there are also passionate arguments for keeping the school’s traditions alive because many say those traditions have to do with pride, not hate.
Superintendent Jeremy Lyon said the district is working to develop a response to the larger issue of racial intolerance within the district that is not reactionary to the vandalism.
“I want to do it right,” Lyon said. “We’re going to treat this in a way that’s built to last.”
Lyon said he and the Board of Trustees have also begun to explore the issue of how the Confederate imagery may play a role in the community as well as how others outside Hays County perceive the district because of it.
“The context of how we feel about allegiance to the fight song and mascot must be balanced against an external audience and how it feels,” Lyon said.
He said he will discuss with the board whether or not to go down the road of changing the high school’s mascot and fight song.
“The trustees represent the values of the community,” Lyon said. “This recent incident gives the board an opportunity to examine that issue.”
Use of the Confederate flag at Hays High was banned about 10 years ago following another racially charged incident.
Former Hays CISD Trustree David Wiley was on the board when school officials created a policy that does not allow Confederate flags on campus or at athletic games.
“There is a subtle racial undercurrent at Hays High,” said Wiley, whose daughter graduated from the school and was the band drum major.
Wiley said that undercurrrent is not conveyed by the school district but is perpetuated by members of the community.
“For the high school students, it [the mascot, fight song and flag] was just pride and spirit, but the adults knew exactly what this was about,” Wiley said.
He also said he thinks there is a phenomenon he calls the “Hays Bubble” — people who lived in the county their entire lives may not realize the school’s Confederate imagery is offensive to other people outside the local community.
At the time of his board term, Wiley said the Texas Education Agency received complaints from other districts that competed against Hays High School in UIL sports, which is why the board decided to tackle the Confederate flag as the school symbol. The board did not try to remove “Dixie.”
“Banning the flag was a big enough bite of the apple,” Wiley said.
The mascot, a caricature of the school’s namesake Capt. Jack C. Hays, had his Rebel flag and guns removed during the last community-wide debate.
In 2000, school officials created a policy that does not allow Confederate flags on campus or at athletic games. Clothing and other accessories with the Rebel flag are also banned at Hays High, and students who wear such items run the risk of having them confiscated.
One person who may have been more adamant about adhering to the dress code was the teacher who was the target of the racially tinged vandalism, Wanda Murphy.
Murphy is also said to have been a vocal opponent of the Rebel mascot and fight song. Indeed, some community members who contacted the Hays Free Press, or commented on the paper’s website and Facebook page, indicated Murphy made the Rebel imagery about racial discrimination.
A comment by “HaysMom” illustrates this viewpoint:
“This teacher is well known for speaking poorly about this school and its traditions meaning the flag and mascot. The rebel flag was flying at HHS long before she became an employee.”
A comment by “Lori” echoes that sentiment:
“This teacher used her position to impose her beliefs.”
Similar comments appear to be a thinly veiled attempt to place blame on Murphy for the actions of the two teenagers in question. District officials are quick to support Murphy, who did not respond to requests for comment.
“Blaming the victim of a crime for the crime is reprehensible. No one deserves to be victimized because of their beliefs, opinions, or positions on issues,” said Tim Savoy, Hays CISD spokesman.
The superintendent asked the Anti Defamation League for help with the broader issues of racial attitudes towards others and maintaining a positive environment for students and employees free from intolerant, hurtful or hateful attitudes and action.
“The district strives to achieve a place where diversity is not only respected, but celebrated,” Savoy said.
In response to the debate sparked in the aftermath of the vandalism, the Hays Free Press conducted a non-scientific online survey to gather input from readers and other community members.
The poll garnered 750 responses from across the age and ethnic spectrum, as well as length of time in Hays County.
The results show sharp divisions on both sides of the issues among those who participated.
On one side are those who believe the Rebel mascot and Dixie song are simply about Southern pride and school tradition, not hate or prejudice.
On the other side are those who think the mascot and fight song need to be changed because they evoke the country’s painful past with slavery.
The majority of respondents said the Rebel mascot is an appropriate representation for the school, with those in the youngest and oldest age groups showing the strongest agreement at 84 and 75 percent, respectively.
Hays High students who took the survey feel more strongly than other age groups that the imagery of the mascot and fight song are not tied to racism and are instead linked to school pride.
Of survey respondents younger than 18 years old, most of whom say they are Hays High students, 84 percent do not want the mascot to change. An equal amount of the youngest respondents also do not want to see the fight song changed.
Sixty-five percent of the respondents who are older than 65 want the mascot to stay, while less than 70 percent of the middle age group cohorts agreed. Three quarters of older respondents want the school to keep Dixie as the fight song.
About a third of respondents in each of the remaining age cohorts think the district should change it.
Below are comments from those who responded to our survey, grouped by age of respondent:
The (African American) teacher that had racist comments and stuff done to her classroom was racist to myself and other classmates. She would make racist remarks downgrading white and other ethnicities.
Often at lunch I’d hear kids calling other students terrible slurs like “dirty Mexican” or the n-word. Some kids will be hurtful or rude to black or Hispanic students simply because of their race.
The mascot or fight song of Hays HS has absolutely nothing to do with racial intolerance at school. Acts of racism committed are due to people’s ignorance and lack of respect and education. If you believe the contrary, that the mascot and fight song do represent racism, then the true positive and peaceful meaning of two are obviously beyond your grasp and your thoughts and opinions shouldn’t count due to your extreme ignorance.
I’m going into my senior year at Hays next year and have yet to see a day when racism of some form is not within the walls of Hays. Many students in Hays High School are arrogant and ignorant teenagers who claim racism isn’t shown by the Rebel Flag and Dixie, but the fact is they’re wrong. The Rebel Flag and Dixie fight song are historical and present day symbols of racism not only from the Civil War but from opposition of the Civil Rights Movement and current white supremeists. This is not how I want to be represented when I graduate.
While I personally have never experienced a specific instance of racism at the high school, the fascination with Confederate imagery and the desire to hold on to that imagery for the sake of “tradition” is ignorant and makes the school look bad to any informed onlooker.
As a former teacher at Hays I heard from my students of various races how uncomfortable the schools symbols made them feel. I always wanted my students to feel safe but these symbols did not allow for that.
As a school our association with the fight song and our mascot has nothing to do with racism. I see nothing wrong with either factors in this survey. I was in the rebel band and was very proud of our school traditions. The act of racism in this vandalism crime was not caused by the fight song or our mascot.
I graduated from Hays in 2001, and grew up in the school system. At the time I thought it was fine. Now however, after living in the world outside of Kyle, Texas – it is seen as pretty insensitive. My main point of contention though is why is Col. Jack C Hays represented as a confederate soldier? Wasn’t he a Texas Ranger? Wasn’t the original school theme centered around the Texas Rangers? Why then did it change/become centered around confederate symbolism?
There was NO racism or rasist activities. I think two STUPID KIDS shouldnt be the reason generations of traditions should be changed.
I work with students in Hays CISD, but am not employed [by] or affiliated with the school district. During my time at Hays HS I have witnessed students bearing items with the rebel flag (purses, t-shirts, stickers, etc.) and I’ve questioned students about their feelings. Most of the students didn’t see the issue and were not aware of the meaning behind the rebel flag and their school mascot. I have seen some school staff members take offense to the display of the rebel flag, while others defend it’s symbolism of ‘southern pride’. I was not aware of Hays HS’s fight song, but I agree that it is also inappropriate. There is currently a state-wide controversy involving a specialized license plate with the rebel flag and I disagree with that as well. It’s obviously offensive at a state-wide level, I can’t understand how it has managed to be a school mascot/symbol.
I remember this being an issue while I was a senior in high school (class of 2000). I remember that flying the flag seemed to be the bigger conflict at the time and the school to steps to phase it out. The flag was take off uniforms and was slightly altered on school shirts. Good or bad Texas was a member of the Confederacy during the Civil War. If people took a history class then they would know that the Civil War was NOT just about slavery. Getting rid of a mascot or changing the fight song is not going to stop people from hating other groups/minorities.
For some people I know that it really is just a tradition, but I know when I attended Hays there were several classmates that considered the flag as not only their mascot but a symbolism of their dislike of Blacks. I don’t think a school mascot should have any characteristics that can be looked at in this way. I know that not everyone does, but it only takes a few to poison the school. If we had a different mascot, such as a Bulldog or Mustang then there are no questions about the motives.
The Confederate flag is till worn as a symbol of pride even though it bothers some of the students/teachers. We had 2 African American teachers at Hays and both left due to issues with dixie/rebel. While people can say they didn’t have to work here, that is the same argument people made during the 60′s. They should be able to work anywhere without feeling discriminated against.
I don’t believe the Rebel mascot or the “Dixie” fight song incite racial intolerance — but both repulse me. Col. Hays as a historical figure is an appropriate mascot. A “Rebel” not so much as it brings to mind Johnny Reb. Emphasize the Col.’s historical importance, leadership qualities, etc. “Dixie” as a fight song is completely inappropriate, and very much about slavery. I’m actually embarrassed that my kids will attend a HS with such a mascot. Feels like a step back in the wrong direction. It seems to cheapen/diminish the image of the school as a place of quality education, like it’s stuck in the “Old South” glory days and hasn’t moved into the 20th century by clinging to this archaic imagery.
Never. Its about school pride. Only outsiders see it as being racicts. Its been tradition having col. Jack as our mascot the rebel flag as our colors and dixie as the school song. If you take that away the churches should take their flag away also. If you take this away what else will you change about tradition.
We should not be using the rebel flag. That is not appropriate. I’m from Houston and was appalled the first time I saw it at the high school.
I worked for Hays for 2.5 years and I asked students to cover up or not wear confederate flags in my classroom. Many did not want to comply, and the principal told me it was their first amendment right to wear the flag. It’s got to go. Kids are completely ignorant of both sides of history when it comes to Dixie and the flag.
The people that only see these symbols as a sign of slavery will forever miss what pride means, even if it is not popular. And to try to remove such symbols from our children will only shadow our past that we are not proud of; removing another chance for our children to learn from our mistakes, if you look at the mascot and song from a slavery point of view. I see removing the song and mascot from our school, so to become more politically correct, would hurt our children more than if we were to shelter them from our fathers’ mistakes.
Why would we want to continue a “tradition” that is offensive and painful to so many others. Times change and we either adapt or in this case get left behind!
Rebel Pride never dies!
When I moved here in 1983 I could not believe it was legal to have the confederate flag as a symbol for anything state funded especially a school. In American History specifically civil war we covered the south with a twist; pride in the “Dixie “How song, confederacy and “their” flag. I remembering thinking to myself I’ve died and gone to an episode of The Twilight Zone!!!!
I’ve not seen any racism at the school; actually, I see the opposite. I see kids who are genuinely nice, accepting, and helpful to others, especially the “underdogs”. However, sadly, in a school with fewer than 25 black students, the mascot and song DO give the wrong impression to others.
Most people, esp. the students, don’t even connect Dixie, etc. with slavery anymore. Certain people just want to keep pulling it up to stir up things. None of the students I have talked to connect the flag or song to slavery.
My daughter went to Hays her Freshman year and the first 6 weeks of her sophomore year. She had nothing but racial attitudes against her and begged to go to Lehman. I’m so glad we made the change. I think Dr. Lyon needs to get off his high horse and do his job. This district does nothing to protect our kids that being bullied and threatened and now nothing for its own employees. I think we need a new superintendent.
My children everyday have Hispanic kids talk about them in Spanish–and they think it’s funny. Remember that racism and racial intolerance goes in many directions other than what media chooses to focus on.
Keep the Mascot and Dixie. If you don’t like it move away… It is here to stay and has been around for a long time! Move on if you don’t want to be apart of the Hays Rebel Pride!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There are so many wonderful things about our Southern Heritage why should we tarnish our loving hospitality with school spirit that is tainted with the painful era of slavery? We should try not to offend our fellow Americans (whether they be black, white, ) who have fought along each other for our freedom. We should honor the contributions of all and stay away from an era the South should not be proud of.
Hays High School biology teacher Wanda Murphy gave my son detention several times over the past school year for wearing his rebel flag belt buckle to a relative had given him, although he tried to convince Ms. Murphy he meant no harm and did not feel the flag represented racism but was a part of our history.
I am not in high school, but have heard many racially disparaging renarks from Hays parents and residents that I find antiquated and offensive. The song and soldier feeds into this mentality.
Seen too many confederate flags on vehicles. Times have change.
I just feel a change in the mascot and no more confederate flag would be a chnge in the right direction.
I have witnessed many incidents regarding intolerance of racial differences at Hays High School for more than over a decade now. Visiting schools are bombarded with racial slurs from rebel fans in the stadium parking lot and proudly display the rebel flag. Racial minority students are expected to carry old athletic issued equipment with the rebel flag on it. Read the fight song lyrics and identify the non-racists theme. You can’t. It is obvious that a racist tone is being perpetuated. Whether you support the rebel fight song, the rebel mascot, the rebel flag or any other iconic symbol of slavery, it is not okay. Do not think that keeping a politically correct public campaign will make it ok. It doesn’t. It sends a message that perpetuates the issue. Slavery is part of our american history. It is a dark history that Hays taxpayers should not have to celebrate at their public school. It is offensive – point blank. The fact of the matter is that the offended taxpayers are not the majority of stakeholders and/or decision-makers in this district. The root of inspiration may have been birthed is good intent, but today our community demographics have changed. Isn’t it time Hays High School respects the diversity and change too? Thank you for providing a public forum for a much needed topic of conversation in the Hays community!
There needs to be both sides of the story told. My children, as well as other students have shared information about Mrs. Murphy that should also be shared if she’s is getting the exposure for the recent incident. I DO NOT condone what happened and those students should be disciplined appropriately according to HAYS CISD policy and procedures. First off, when Ms. Murphy was hired she knew had to know about the mascot and possibly that the school song was “Dixie”, so if those two things were so offensive to her, she should NOT have worked in this district. Secondly, she has broken school policy by making students change their shirts or turn them wrong side out if the shirt had anything about “Rebel” on them.
I am a former Hays CISD employee. My children go to schools in Kyle. I worked in Buda for an elementary school. I was treated hatefully by what I call the “backward’s wanna-be’s” of Buda. I think they are stuck in a small town frame of mind and need to step into the 21st century. I have always heard that Hays was better than Lehman, well I haven’t heard of racial intolerance at Lehman that made the news. As a former employee I find the “No Place For Hate” a absolute joke. It happens daily to employees, students and parents. This will not be an isolated incident and will happen again. It does daily, been thorugh it and seen it myself. I feel my responsibility is to teach my children better and lead by example and pray for those who just don’t get it and are not who they think they are.
My experience is that most of the kids don’t even know or realize the meaning behind Dixie or the Rebel flag. They see it as school pride not anything racial. The community has created a line in the sand and some kids feel they need to cross it just to make a point against the adults telling them they “can’t” do something. Racism is taught to the kids it is not something they are born with. We need to teach the kids to not judge others on skin color, sex or any other traits except how you treat others.
I hardly belive that we have a racial issue in this county. This vandalism may have just been a couple of kids destroying property for lack of something constructive to do.
This is really an inflamatory questionnaire and is the reason that there are racial problems. If everyone was a little more tolerant and did not conjure up problems; they would not exist. The teacher who experienced “racism” needs to learn tolerance as well; as she was a racist to the highest degree!
Jack Hays was NOT a Rebel, so he could stay, but the mascot name should not say Rebel. Maybe Rangers?
For me, it’s not about the problems within the school as much as the perception of the “rebels” and the unfortunate stereotype the rebel flag has gotten over the years. Outside of Hays County, the rebel is perceived as a negative thing.
These students who did the vandalism were just being destructive. They chose a means that would incite the most anger and it worked. The issue at hand should not be the song or the rebel icon, it should be the fact that these students had caused problems in the past and they were allowed to return and do it again. Too often there are students who cause problems and are allowed to return. Some of these students even caused issues for my kid and were kicked out (sent to impact) but were allowed back at Hays. They had multiple offenses on their record which included drugs, assault, and vandalism. But, after they did their time at impact, they were back causing issues again. Does anyone believe that if the song were changed or the icon changed that no other student in the future will write racist things?
Your taking away traditions that generations have shared for years! We we told to have Rebel Pride but that was about the pride we had for ourself and our school!! It had nothing to do with any hate!
None that I consider racist. Have in the past wore (rebel) ball cap and stood for the fight song when my kids attended Hays HS. I think the time has come for a change because there are so many black kids in the school and I can see how this might bother them and their parents. Also Hays county is a long long way from the deep south and dixie.
At what point do we hold the young adults accountable for their actions? Its crazy when something horrible that happens like this, the first thing we say is lets change a song, mascot, flags. Lets look at the parents that raised these kids, their lies your problem. Apple doesnt fall far from the tree!
I would just like to add that I think many of the kids do not even know the history of the rebel flag; if they did, i think they would understand the impact it has on african americans. if they do and still think it is appropriate then i think this could also say something about them. My opinion may be a little biased because i am black but the flag and mascot are just not positive in my opinion and if that is the case then change it to something that is positive and promotes something more positive for all and the community.
(White respondent) I know the teacher involved. Students frequently use the “N” word on campus. It is often just shrugged off.
(White respondent) Heard a current student on the football team describe playing Anderson last year as playing againt those f’ing N*****s. No joke!
Song and name have outlived their usefulness. Keep Ranger Hays as mascot if possible.
I believe that “Dixie” is a suitable fight song and that the image of Jack C. Hays is appropriate as he was a local hero. There was not a good side and a bad side in the Civil War, there were just sides and the War is a large part of our heritage. Those wishing to be “politically-correct”, a term that I have come to consider a bane to our society, have to realize that changing things like these will not change historical facts. One of those facts is that Texas was a part of the Confederacy, not the Union during the War. Eliminating traditions such as these will not eliminate any bigotry that exists, educating the people will.
I was band director at Hays HS for 17 years, and an employee of the Hays CISD for almost 20 years. “Rebels” and “Dixie” are the Hays identifying crests of honor. It is ridiculous to suggest that either is a “racial slur”. They only are an indication of pride, honor, and tradition. They are spirit symbols for a school with great pride and tradition. “Dixie” was written by a northerner, and was originally premiered in New Youk City. President Lincoln requested a Union military band to play “Dixie” in honor of the South. Hays county is named for the same Jack C. Hays. Should we change that as well? Ridiculous thought, isn’t it? Equally so are these suggestions of racism. Gerald Babbitt
This message is not about an incident or situation. It is a statement. We have 4 sons that graduated from Hays, 1982; 1984; 1988; 2001. Racism or racial discrimination was not a problem while they attended Hays. We are proud of the Jack C. Hays Rebels & the Rebel Flag & Mascot.