Rally held to support Richland High’s Rebel mascot

Scott Maywald leaned against the bed of a Ford pickup Sunday with a Confederate battle flag draped over the tailgate.

When he was a senior at Richland High School, Maywald and his classmates staged a walkout when the flag — then often associated with the school’s Rebel mascot — came under scrutiny. It was banned from school events in 1993.

Twenty-three years later, Maywald was on the defensive again, this time in the parking lot of the Birdville school district administration building, where more than 100 people rallied Sunday in support of the Rebel mascot name.

The 30-minute protest was a response to a recent civil rights complaint filed by the Rev. Kyev Tatum, the leader of the Fort Worth Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who on Friday called for Richland to change the name of its mascot and those of its Johnny Rebs and Dixie Belles spirit groups.

Tatum’s complaint to the Texas Education Agency also included Richland’s recent handling of allegations that softball coach Brenda Jacobson made racially insensitive remarks to an African-American player.

Jacobson was reprimanded for “inappropriate communication” but received no further punishment.

When the reprimand letter was released through open records Tuesday, a follow-up story prompted Tatum’s group to independently investigate.

After Tatum called for the mascot change, a response by Richland supporters soon swelled, with a “Save Our Rebels” Facebook page gathering more than 4,000 likes by Saturday.

The rally Sunday wasn’t as large as the group’s Internet presence, but by 2 p.m., a sizable crowd had gathered, despite temperatures in the 90s.

The first woman to speak asked whether the Confederate flag ever meant racism at Richland. The crowd responded with an emphatic “no.”

“Then why is anyone trying to take it away?” she said. “Because they don’t understand where we come from. We come from a Southern heritage. We love our country.”

But the woman was soon interrupted by Tommy Duer, a 1973 Richland graduate.

“It’s not about the flag,” Duer shouted over the crowd.

Duer said the rally was about preserving the mascot, not defending the Confederate flag.

“The flag was debated years ago,” Duer said. “The Confederate flag was taken away. That was a fight that we lost, and that’s fine. But the Rebel mascot, the Dixie Belles and the Johnny Rebs are what they’re trying to take away…[those] have never been a racist symbol for us, and that’s what this rally is about.”

While Duer and others emphasized support of the mascot, the Confederate flag was a strong presence at the rally.

One was staked behind a Kia SUV near the entrance of the parking lot. Another was held by a man as he roamed through the crowds. Others, like Maywald’s, hung from vehicles or were emblazoned on T-shirts and stitched on hats.

“Everybody’s saying [the rally] is not about the flag, but it is about the flag,” Maywald said. “It’s all connected. It’s not one thing. They’re trying to take the peoples’ rights away, one at a time, and that’s not right.”

Maywald, who lives in Fort Worth, found out about the rally on Facebook.

But he said he’s followed controversy surrounding the Confederate flag closely over the last month.

“It’s shameful to me,” Maywald said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I have Southern heritage here and Southern pride. And that’s all this is about. Just because hate groups take this symbol and use it as their own doesn’t mean that’s what it stands for.”

The Birdville school district has yet to release a statement on the issue. Tatum said the mascot and group names at Richland “promote white supremacy.”

Duer says they’re a part of the school’s history, not a tie to the Confederacy.

“Are we in the business now of erasing things?” Duer said. “There are other societies that erase things they don’t like. In America, we don’t erase things. … Outside people are trying to make it about racism.”

Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @RyanOsborneFWST