Hays district was developed to unify: ‘Rebels’ doesn’t do it now, if it ever did

Editorial: From the Hays Free Press Owners

The Hays Consolidated Independent School district is young, just over 50 years old. It brought together diverse communities that could not afford to survive on their own to create a better consolidated school district for them all, working together.
The questions before the school board now – before us – are old, as old as Texas, as old as the nation. What is community?
What is the meaning of one’s origin, the place where you come from?
Where do you fit in? What does it mean to be welcomed?
What is home?
What is race?
What is the value of a symbol? A mascot? Of tradition? Heritage? Unity?
What is community?
There were not many black people in this district when it was formed. There were a lot of people of Mexican-American descent, a lot of southern whites, and the southern whites, mostly, were running the schools. The students at the time, and the people running the schools, for a list of complicated reasons, chose the name “Rebels” as the school mascot to represent the district’s first consolidated high school.
Why? Oral histories from the time indicate students were influenced by other winning teams in the area named Rebels. Teenagers are naturally “rebellious” and liked the image. Some here still had deep ties to southern ancestry.
But there’s no escaping that Rebel imagery was on the rise nationally at that same time – the mid-1960s – in reaction to the national civil rights movement, and directly or subconsciously, that may have influenced the choice for some.
There was drama in the founding of this unified school district. It took brave, far-sighted women and men who were willing to put aside bitter rivalries and old hurts to bring together communities that had fought and competed against one another into a single school district. They, and the strong leaders who came after, in education and sports, succeeded beyond their dreams, and today our district has built its own traditions that seem untouchable to some in this new alliance.
And yet, somehow, we find ourselves, after all these years and all these good efforts with a symbol at the heart of this system that has never stood for unity, that is woven into the very fabric of American disunity, and that divides our consolidation just as it divides our American experiment.
This is a complicated debate across America and the South, and even more so in this school district, where the Rebel flag and – now that the flag is gone – the Rebel mascot are often argued to stand for something different: family values or Southern roots, or old school ties. At Hays, it is not just white hands that clap for a Rebel nickname, or white voices that speak out for its maintenance, but plenty of brown ones, too.
We get it. We get it because we are of the South. Some of us are brown and some are white, but several of us who own this newspaper had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.
We get it because we are of this county and of this district. Among the owners and our families, we have been at most football games since the district was founded. One of the founders of this district was a stockholder in a newspaper that evolved into this one. Long before he was a founder of the district, he was superintendent of the Buda schools in the Great Depression, and Barton Middle School, which feeds into Hays High School and sits next door, is named for him. His daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are among the stockholders of this newspaper today.
We get it.
Giving up “Rebels” will be hard for many in this community, we know it will. But it is time. As our district has grown larger and even more diverse, as we have grown from a rural district to one more incorporated into the wider world, it is more apparent than ever that this emblem is not the right one – if indeed it ever was.
It is not the right one to welcome new neighbors who move here – Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites.
It is not the right one to welcome the sports teams, academicians and bands that come to visit and compete.
It is not the right one to send a message of who we are when our students travel.
It is not a symbol of unity capable of rallying and inspiring our community of students and educators.
We know some still argue – strenuously – that the Civil War was not about slavery or racism. It was about high-minded state’s rights, and sectional misunderstanding, they say. We refer here, briefly, to the Declaration For The Causes of Secession, written by Texas delegates breaking from the Union.
It asserts the Confederacy must leave in order to “secure the rights of the slave-holding states” because the non slave-holding states proclaim the “debasing doctrine of the equality of all men irrespective of race or color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law … We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race … were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race … Negro slavery … should exist in all future time.”
There’s a lot more, and honestly, it gets worse. It is almost all about race-based slavery. They made no bones about it.
These were not rebels without a cause. They had a cause, and it is not ours, not our district’s, not our community’s, not today.
Symbols matter.
Last week, we ran a photograph of Hays High School graduation night on the front page. Amid a sea of red gowns, a student graduating as a “Hays Rebel” knelt by her chair in silent protest for Black Lives Matter. It’s a stark juxtaposition.
We had a handful of readers call immediately to cancel their subscriptions, angry we had published the photograph, as if not printing it would have erased what actually happened. We’re not in business to lose readers or to make people angry. But we do try to publish what actually happens, what people who were there would actually talk about.
Meanwhile, as that student knelt, younger students at Hays were circulating petitions asking for change, and district officials were surveying students and staff for their opinion on the issue. Results just released indicate a significant percentage feel deeply uneasy with the moniker. District administrators say they will recommend the board change the mascot. We know that will frustrate some of you, just as this editorial will – something we don’t look on with relish, being owners of a small business, a small newspaper that considers itself an integral part of the community itself.
But as for the Rebels, and the board’s pending decision, consider this:
For all the bravery, for all the mix of emotions, the Rebel Confederacy was at its core about breaking from the American Union. Its own stated ideals were an explicit and violent rejection of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, the idea that we all stand with inalienable rights before the Creator and the law, especially after the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.
The emblems by which we represent our district, no matter how fabled on the battlefields of yesteryear or the ballfields of yesterday, should be symbols of inspiration and unity, symbols of consolidation, welcoming to all our communities. If we make it that simple, then the choice, too, is simple.
Whatever it might have meant to someone who spiked a volley, or hit a homerun, who graduated or served on a board, whatever it might mean in legend, the Rebel gray was created in war and hatred among neighbors, and in the belief that human beings cannot live together and learn together, as equals.
It is not a token befitting our district or the people who live in it, nor with the benefit of hindsight we now enjoy, the people who founded it and gave their lives to it. Now, when so many are asking us to see with fresh eyes, we should not demand that our staff and students who are uncomfortable with the Rebel myth embrace it. Just as importantly, perhaps, we might teach our students who are comfortable with how and why to question – without bitterness, or recrimination – their own assumptions.
We know the history. We understand the emotion. We get it.
But here’s the thing. Courageous people came before us. They built this district by making tough choices. For members of the board, people before you made progress on this very issue.
Now’s the time to finish the job. Now’s the time to build new traditions built on the pride and the strong foundations that exist – that exist not because of a mascot, but because of the people, values and teamwork that exemplify the best in this district.
Take the recommendation, change the name, board members. It’s time.
It’s time, dear readers, it’s time. Indeed, it’s way, way, way past time we move on.

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