Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico County has taken steps over the past decades to de-emphasize its traditions that are rooted in Confederate times.
The school, nicknamed the Rebels, no longer sings “Dixie” at football games nor has a Confederate soldier as the school mascot.
On Thursday, principal John Marshall sent an email to students and alumni asking for their views on changing the Rebels moniker.
“We have attempted over the years to reframe the meaning of ‘rebel,’” he wrote. “We tell our students — and I write in principal’s messages — that we aspire to be ‘rebels,’ who use our talents to challenge the status quo and change the world.”
He continued: “While our traditions contribute to our strong school culture, this moment in our nation’s history demands that we ask if our symbols and language reflect our core values.”
The school has set up a website, freemanmascot.info, with the intent of hearing from members of the Freeman community.
Marshall wrote: “As a steward of the position I hold, and as an individual with just one perspective, I believe my role is to listen to the community, make sure all sides are heard, and then build consensus on the right path forward for the students of DSF.
“I pledge to listen, reflect what I hear and, with a committee formed of community members, students and staff, use that input to make a determination about the future of our school’s ‘Rebels’ mascot. This decision will not be made behind closed doors or without community input, nor will it be a mechanism to avoid the hard conversations we need to have as a community.
“We will lean in to those conversations. It will also not be determined by a popular vote. We will listen to the community — as many voices as we possibly can — and choose the best course for our students.”
Marshall wrote that he wants the school to model for the community how such a dialogue can take place productively.
Other school names have also come until criticism, notably Lee-Davis High in Hanover County, which plays sports as the Confederates. The Hanover school board took up the issue in 2018, voting to keep the name.
Freeman’s namesake, Douglas Southall Freeman, is a Richmond author, historian and editor who won Pulitzer Prizes for his work on biographies of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. He also served as editor of the Richmond News Leader, which was later merged with The Times-Dispatch.