Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, which was recently renamed from Woodrow Wilson High School, is further in the method of changing its mascot from a Trojan to an Evergreen.
“Evergreens are characterized by the life-giving force of their foliage, the strength of their massive trunk, and the depth of their roots—in an individual tree and as a forest of trees,” Ellen Whatmore, a teacher and mascot committee member at the school, read from a resolution through a March 30 meeting. “They provide shelter and sustenance. They have histories that preclude us and will continue in perpetuity after we are no more. This symbolic choice is grounded in the spirit of Portland, and is representative of Ida B. Wells Barnett’s legacy.”
There was “loud and clear support” across the school for the new decision, she explained.
The vote on the resolution was delayed, though, because Portland Public Schools Board of Education Director Michelle DePass was concerned regarding trees being used for lynchings in the past.
“I’ve heard from a couple of community members now about the idea of using a tree—which, of course, I mean, personally, I love evergreens, I’m from Oregon—but using a tree that’s used to lynch people in our mascot, if there was any consideration as to the imagery there, that we’ve all seen from people hanging from trees and using this mascot,” she announced at the meeting.
“Because I think that, you know, everyone comes with blind spots. And I think that might have been a really, really big blind spot. That just wasn’t considered,” she went on.
Filip Hristic, the principal of the school, told board members that Wells-Barnett’s family has been supportive of advancing the legacy of Wells though that he had not spoken to them regarding the mascot matter.
“Ida Wells has a very particular connection to Woodrow Wilson, which we thought was a wonderful counterpoint to the history that we were trying to both surface and move away from. And it was somebody who stood strong and stood proud against what Woodrow Wilson and many others, like him have promoted,” he said.
“And so we felt like she was a very appropriate choice for us in response to his legacy. And in choosing the mascot, as we looked around our community to see what is most prominent, what is most reflective of where we are, evergreen seemed like an obvious choice.”