Effort to change Manteo mascots moves forward

By on September 2, 2020

After petition, item on BOE agenda for next week

This story is co-published with the Coastal Review Online.

The issue of changing the Manteo mascot is on the Dare Board of Education agenda for Sept. 8. (Manteo Redskins Football Touchdown Club/Facebook)

When the Clyde A. Erwin High School in Buncombe County was under national media klieg lights more than 20 years ago due to a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation of its Indian mascots, the Manteo “Redskins” and “Braves” sports teams in Dare County remained distant from the growing national controversy over names Native Americans viewed as insulting and disrespectful.

Eventually, the Asheville school changed its offensive “Squaw” mascot to “Lady Warriors.” In response to the 2002 State Board of Education directive that required North Carolina school districts to review any use of Indian mascot names, Manteo scaled back Native American   imagery in its mascots — while keeping the “Redskins” and “Braves” team names.

But now, some former and current students and community members say it’s past time for the names to go. And the matter will soon formally make its way to the Dare County Board of Education.

Citing the Black Lives Matter movement as inspiration, some alumni of the Manteo schools submitted an online petition with more than 12,000 signatures urging that the mascots be retired to the board of education in August. On Sept. 2, a subcommittee of the board agreed to add the alumni presentation on the issue to the agenda for its 5 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, according to Dare schools spokesman Keith Parker. The meeting will be streamed live online.

“The use of these mascots is deeply harmful to the cause of creating sustainable and positive

race relations in our community,” the petition says. “Changing these mascots is a small but symbolic step towards dismantling racist structures and building dialogue and accountability.”

The petition is also asking the district to “increase education about regional and national Native American communities and efforts to create an anti-racist school community.”

Named for Algonquian Native Americans Wanchese and Manteo, who interacted on Roanoke Island with the “Lost Colony’” — the famed English colony that mysteriously disappeared — Manteo High School adopted its Redskins mascot, an Indian brave’s head, sometime before World War II. The “Braves” name and logo was adopted by Manteo elementary and middle schools.

Holly Overton, a 2005 Manteo High graduate, said she remembered feeling “weird” about the “Redskins” name, but nobody ever said anything about it when she was in school. Many Native Americans consider the name, which refers to a murdered Native American’s scalp, to be a racial slur.

Years later, Overton said, her memory of that discomfort was stirred by the recent black activist movement. In examining her “privilege,” she said, she realized that Native American mascots are examples of the perception of “other” that is outside the white person’s frame.  “That was the trigger,” she said in an interview. “I started texting some of my friends.”

Overton, who is a painter and musician in Brooklyn, N.Y., soon connected with Manteo alumni Rachel Endsley (2005), Evan Harrison (2002) and Kristen McCown (2007) and they worked together with people in other school districts who have addressed the issue.

A petition drive in Gaston County is underway to retire the South Point Red Raiders in Belmont, which uses a mascot with similar imagery to Manteo’s Redskins mascot. Overton also contacted Monroe Gilmour, coordinator of the North Carolina Mascot Education & Action Group in Asheville.

Gilmour, who has been involved in the mascot issue since the 1990s, said the group was advised back then that attempts to force an outright ban of the mascots used in 73 school districts throughout North Carolina would create intense backlash; change would have to come from the community itself. That advice proved to be wise — and effective.

“We got forty schools to stop using Indian mascots,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

Over the years, interest in the mascot issue waned, except for occasional flare-ups inspired by the controversy over the Washington NFL team name.

But it seems that the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, reinvigorated the issue. Out of the blue, Gilmour recounted, he received a call in June from a South Point alumni. The next day, he received a call from Overton. Then he received another call from an alumni from Social Circle, Ga. schools, which also use the “Redskin” moniker.

“All three of them contacted me within a matter of three days,” he says.

With the strong emotions and passions attached to mascot names — ranging from community members who identify with the teams they grew up rooting for to Native Americans who grew up feeling belittled by the characterization of their culture — changing those names has been a slow and conflicted process.

Gilmour recalls that when activist Charlene Teters, often referred to as the “Rosa Parks of American Indians,” visited Asheville in 1998, some students lowered a banner where she was speaking that read: “Scalp ‘em.”

In March 2020, the National Indian Education Association issued a new resolution calling for “the immediate elimination of race-based Indian logos, mascots, and names from educational institutions throughout the Nation.”

What concerns Gilmour, he says, is how often school administrators have dismissed the underlying racism in the mascots. “Educators are so cowed by fear of the alumni,” he says, “that they don’t do what they know they should do.”

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, who died last month, had testified as an expert witness for an American Indian group seeking to revoke the trademark for the Washington Redskins football team, according to his obituary in The Washington Post.

In his testimony, the Post reported, Nunberg — known for 30 years of language commentaries on NPR’s Fresh Air — called the use of the word “Redskin” a “racial slur” defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as “offensive slang.”

But despite years of controversy and criticism, Washington team owner Dan Snyder refused to consider retiring the named that his team adopted in 1933. “We’ll never change the name,” he declared in 2013 to USA Today. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

At the time, about 79 percent of Americans polled about the name agreed with Snyder, according to ESPN.com.  As part of the rationale for keeping the name, the NFL cited various high schools throughout the country who used the “Redskins” mascot. Under pressure from a number of quarters, including advertisers, Snyder recently reversed course and agreed to change the name.

Marilyn Berry Morrison, chief of the Roanoke-Hatteras Tribe, says there are about 200 or so members from the Outer Banks on the official roll. But native heritage has been difficult to trace, she said, because of the fear of “being carted off to the reservation,” combined with the tradition of oral, rather than written, history.

As it is for Washington, Morrison says it’s long overdue for Manteo to toss its “Redskins” mascot.

“Well, we tried to get this changed years ago, but it fell through the cracks and I’m glad that it’s surfaced again,” she says. “Ditching the cringe-worthy name would send a very, very important message. We are evolving. I know we can find something more suitable and appropriate to honor Manteo High School.”

Some names suggested in comments by people who signed the petition include Mariners, Seafarers, Falcons, Algonkians and Pirates.

Robin Sawyer, a former journalism teacher at Manteo High School from 1991 to 2004 and then at First Flight High School from 2004 until she retired in 2015, understands the reason why “Redskins” is offensive.

But the name also has a strong association to alumni heritage, especially for older generations, Sawyer notes. People feel sentimental, she says, about the dedication of the coaches and players, about the camaraderie and excitement of rooting for the team, about the Redskins being so closely identified with the community

Yet, Sawyer says, spending time fighting over the “Redskins” name strikes her as “frivolous.”

She adds that, “It breaks my heart that we’ve made things like this so impersonal, that we forget that things like this are so personal. In the big picture, I don’t give a flip about it. In the personal picture, it is heartbreaking.”

Jerry Cahoon, a retired teacher who at age 85 looks back fondly on his 30 years coaching the Manteo Redskins football team, sounded resigned about the name changing.

To the community, he says, he believes the mascot name was meant to show Manteo’s pride in its Native American history, “but we’re not Indians, and I don’t know how they feel.”

And while he says a new name might take getting used to, he adds that it would not take away the team spirit.

“There’s going to be a lot of people that are going to miss Redskins,” Cahoon says, adding: “I think our fans are still going to be our fans.”


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Comments

  • Angry Parent

    This is an example of white people over stepping to make sure people know they are not racist. As part Native American, I don’t see anything racist or hateful about Manteo Schools names. People need to quit. What about the Jewish race? How many died in this century???? Where’s the outrage there?

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 6:01 pm
  • Arturo Lara, MHS Class of 2016

    So sad…

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 6:07 pm
  • Lou Briccants

    How about the Manteo “Social Justice Warrior Snowflakes”?

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 6:09 pm
  • Todd

    I was wondering how long it would take. The changing name stuff is one thing but please dont Make the blm movement as heroic. The cause was justified, the riots are a disgrace and ruins it. Please don’t let the riots show up here in dare

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 6:51 pm
  • Brian Mohl

    First of all, the name “Manteo” is a Native American chief. Come on, white people, stop with the virtue signalling, yesterday please! You name places and teams you love after people and things you honor and respect. BTW, Manteo’s helmets have got to be the coolest high school helmets I’ve ever seen.

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 7:04 pm
  • 69 Redskin

    Please tell us how many votes were there AGAINST changing the name! Snowflakes will be snowflakes….bleeding hearts will bleed blue….tell Ms. Overman to mind her own business!

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 7:44 pm
  • a real moderate

    Every year, for about the past 30 years, I’ve said, “Some day we’ll look back upon this year and be amazed that they were still using ‘Redskins’ as a sports mascot in 19XX (or 20XX).”
    That started in probably 1990, when I was still in high school, and continues to this day.
    It’s absurd that people thought (and still think) that this was OK.

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 7:57 pm
  • janet barr

    Better start re-thinking the name of the town..Manteo. It is named after the chief who helped the Roanoke settlers. Oh no- don’t think of Indians (remember how they got that name, or isn’t that taught in American history now) with positive adjectives-just let the ridiculous,uneducated,intolerant “cancel culture”tell you how to think and what to say and what NOT to say…pitiful. ..first time I’ve seen snowflakes in September.

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 8:13 pm
  • John creef

    Absolutely absurd wanting to change these names. They mean warriors in our eyes as natives. BLM has nothing to do with this. God made us in his image. No matter What the skin color is. People need to quit crying every time they think they get their feelings hurt. The washington redskins was designed by an Indian. Chew on that for a second….. As a native My roots go way back. my great great grandad brought the Wright brothers down and watched them fly. My dad coached baseball at manteo high for 20 plus years. He built the softball field. ALL in REDSKIN pride!!!!

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 8:53 pm
  • surf123

    It really is a pathetic attempt by white people to feel better about themselves. It is real shame.

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 10:00 pm
  • Micah Daniels

    If we change the school mascot, shouldn’t we change the name of the town of Manteo and the village of Wanchese names as well? While we are at it—let’s change half the names of the streets in downtown Manteo too.

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 10:24 pm
  • Peter

    Beyond ridiculous that a mascot is seen as racist. A mascot, if anything, is honored and respected. A mascot represents pride and strength. People, towns, cities and nations come together using a mascot as their symbol. Who wouldn’t be proud of that? My hope was that Manteo would be the last place to cave to this garbage. Bye bye history and pride…hello rainbows and unicorns. This town respects its school mascots…let the residents decide…not a bunch of petition signers who don’t live here!

    Wednesday, Sep 2 @ 11:24 pm
  • Wombatnc

    Red-skins is a racist name that is long overdue to be retired and changed. Referring to a group of people by the color of their skin is racist – no harm may be intended, but it certainly can be to a Native American. Thank you alumni for taking a stand and doing what is right. Now it’s up to the school board to follow suit and join the rest of the world in the 21st century – even the NFL Washington Football Club (privately owned) changed their name; now is the time!
    I like Manteo Marlins, but if they want to stick with the Native American theme, Warriors.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 6:50 am
  • WBN

    We don’t need “small but symbolic steps” to be taken. Let the Native Americans speak for themselves instead of trying to relieve your guilt by pretending to be so concerned. The name has stood foe many years and I haven’t met anyone personally affected by it.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 7:26 am
  • Pete Hummers

    Yes, because we only name our sports teams after those who we don’t respect… (Rolls eyes)

    Doesn’t Miss Overton have enough to occupy her in Brooklyn?

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 7:31 am
  • Happy Parent

    Ahh, nice to see the local racists out in full force on this one. Sorry boomers, it’s racist. If anyone is a snowflake it’s you guys. It’s a silly school mascot for crying out loud, yet here you are crying about it. Even threw in some whataboutism…you definitely know you have no argument when that happens, LOL. Good riddance.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 8:27 am
  • Tom W

    How about out-of-the-area folks worrying about their own business? It is racist to change proud team names because of offense against white folks. I’m part native American

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 8:33 am
  • hugo north

    After throwing up in my mouth,I realize just how self loathing liberals are…who cares about assumed insults…who cares about insults…certainly not liberals who spew hatred of those who oppose their beliefs…

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 9:04 am
  • Travis

    The alumni are taking a responsible position as it applies to the name. It’s overdue. If they want a name that honors this area’s history there are plenty to choose from. The “Flyers” would be kind of cool (Wright Flyer).

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 9:38 am
  • Really?

    The “woke” mob creating controversy and conflict where there is none…

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 10:16 am