By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on October 13, 2020
After a presentation from a group that wants to retain the “Braves” and “Redskins” mascots and names for the Manteo Middle and Manteo High School athletic teams, the Dare County Board of Education unanimously endorsed keeping those names at its Oct. 13 meeting.
The presentation, in the form of an 11-minute video from a group loosely known as “Save the Redskins,” followed a September presentation before the board by a group pressing for the school district to change the mascots, claiming the names were racially tinged, insulting and disrespectful to Native Americans. That group submitted an online petition with more than 12,000 endorsing a change.
Judy Cage, one of the organizers of the group supporting the mascots, told the Voice in an interview that, “We formed as a response to the group that wanted the mascot changed…We just feel like [those] people are dismissing the mascot out of hand without realizing the history and context” of the names.
That issue was recently re-ignited when what is now the Washington Football Team dropped its longstanding and controversial Redskins nickname amid considerable pressure, including from sponsors. For her part, Cage said, “The NFL changed their mascot out of financial fear…It’s a really different situation with a small high school.”
The presentation at the Oct. 13 meeting by Cage’s group included some history, some advocacy and some testimonials, largely from a number of Manteo alum and students.
Carol Meekins, a 1956 grad of Manteo High School, talked about Chief Manteo’s good relationship with the British explorers and their colonists on Roanoke Island, said he was the first Native American to be baptized into the Church of England, and described him as “an early example of positive racial and cultural relations in North America.”
Meekins also reported that the first known depiction of Manteo High’s Redskins mascot was in a yearbook from 1937, the same year the curtain came up on the first performance of The Lost Colony play. The presentation also included Manteo High students and alum declaring themselves “proud to be a Redskin.”
Board of Education Chair Bea Basnight opened the discussion after the presentation by stating that after a very difficult year of closed schools, remote learning and little social bonding, “I think it’s not the wisest thing to consider taking away one more thing [the mascot] from our students.”
Board Member Harvey Hess spoke of the dangers of American communities being “intimidated” into erasing their histories, and he and criticized the efforts of the change-the-mascot movement as “an attempt from people from a lot of other places to instill their beliefs in our community.”
Noting that “I received a lot of information on both sides of the topic,” Board Member Frank Hester said, “You can see the passion on both sides of the subject. I also feel it’s not the right time to” change the names.
While Hess offered a more proactive motion to endorse keeping the Braves and Redskins mascots, Hester suggesting tabling any action on the matter now, in order to “focus on getting the kids back in school” and further studying the issue down the road.
In the end, the board unanimously approved the Hess motion.