The head of the Fort Smith School Board says the decision of two members to abandon an effort to bring back the Rebel mascot means the district can move on from the divisive issue and she can too. Board President Dr. Deanie Mehl told Talk Business & Politics she'll step down at the end of 2017 after 12 years on the school board.
Mehl's comments come days after an attorney at the helm of a nine month effort to resurrect the Johnny Reb mascot at Fort Smith’s Southside High School decided to suspend his push.
The announcement on Friday from Joey McCutchen comes after a pair of new school board members said they’d stop voting to re-instate the mascot. McCutchen says the change in opinion makes his September election push unworkable.
“We had it set for a battle in September. When Bill Hanesworth and Wade Gilkey were elected and then we have an election in September, I always felt that was going to give conservative folks control of the school board. But when Bill and Wade said they wanted to move on to education issues and said they would not vote in September to go back to the name Rebels, then in effect there’s no sense in…clearly we’re going to elect school board members and it may be changed back someday in the future,” says McCutchen.
“Lately Bill and Wade have seen that this is a divisive issue and I think both of them decided they wanted the focus to be on educating our kids, graduation rates, the millage issue, and school report cards. Which are all things I want to do too,” says McCutchen.
Last year, the elected school board of the Fort Smith public school system voted unanimously to end the use of the Rebel mascot and Dixie fight song because of their association with slavery and the Confederacy.
McCutchen contends the school board is “hypocritical” for not taking a closer examination of other Civil War figures and symbols. McCutchen calls former President Abraham Lincoln – who authored the Emancipation Proclamation - a “white supremacist.”
“Anyone who follows history knows that Abraham Lincoln was a white supremacist,” says McCutchen. “Our children are being taught that he’s some kind of American hero. I’m tired of folks on the other side of this issue bashing true heroes like Robert E. Lee and then acting like Abraham Lincoln is some kind of icon.”