Change the Racist Colonel of Brattleboro Union High School

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The Colonel Mascot, of the Brattleboro Colonels, is a racist name that is deeply rooted in the history of the enslavement of Black people, The Civil War, and the racist history of Brattleboro.

The first BUHS Colonel Mascot image was modeled after Colonel Reb, a white, goateed Southern plantation owner and enslaver who was also the mascot for the University of Mississippi. That is, until they recognized it’s racist origins and changed their mascot in 2003. I’ve attached a picture comparing Colonel Reb (left) and the original BUHS mascot (right)--they’re virtually identical except the colors.

Throughout 2003 there was heated debate and finally in 2004, BUHS also recognized the racist origins of the mascot and decided to pick a new image to represent the school, but did not choose a new name. While changing the image was a step, it simply was not enough, and the name of our mascot is a disgusting display of the racism in our state and our school.

According to a 2010 article by Emma Carmichael called The Ugly, Racially Charged Fight over a Confederate Mascot. In Vermont, in 1998 BUHS had to “ban bonfires at our pep rallies because someone had dangled an effigy of a black doll above the flames, and soon after that, a letter to the local newspaper pointed out that it was, well, kind of odd that our football team's rallying cry was "Pride of the South.”’ Although when asked, they would say that this is because Brattleboro is in Southern Vermont, “when the phrase was coupled with the Southern slave owner on the team bumper stickers, and when those bumper stickers were affixed to the pickup trucks that flew their Confederate flags in the high school parking lot, well, people did double-takes. There were always a lot of Confederate flags.

And while some may think that because this happened so many years ago it’s fine now, or that because the image was changed that the problem is solved, it is not. As a white student I was never a victim of the institutional and interpersonal racism at BUHS, but I tell you as a recently graduated witness and as the older sibling of a Black brother who’s currently enrolled there and frequently comes home with stories of aggressive and blatant discrimination, racism is still rampant in the halls of BUHS. 

I love this community and this school, which is why I want it to be a place that's a safe and nurturing environment for ALL Brattleboro students, not just white ones. By having a name with an overt connection to Slavery, the Civil War South, and the racist history of Brattleboro, BUHS is telling its students of color that it is not a space meant for them. We cannot claim to stand for inclusion and anti-racism while having this mascot--it is an obvious and frankly embarrassing contradiction.

Before we can even begin healing the wounds of our racist history, we have to acknowledge it and remove its vestiges. It’s time to actually make BUHS a safe space for Black students. “Pride in our school and its history” is absolutely not an excuse to avoid doing this. We must criticize the things we take pride in the most.   I am proud to be a BUHS graduate, but I am not proud when I am called a Colonel. The name Brattleboro Colonels must be removed.

I implore you to sign this petition, share it, and  email faculty, other students--past or present, BUHS Principal Steve Perrin, the WSESU School Board, and Superintendent Andrew Skarzynski.

Edit/Update: According to the Reformer and a piece called Harvard and Slavery, the name Colonels came before the Colonel Reb image and was based off Colonel Brattle, the Revolutionary soldier who this town was named after. He was a rich white man who lived in Cambridge, Mass and was gifted a large sum of stolen Abenaki land, now known as Brattleboro. His father was a slave owner and William Brattle himself is recorded to have owned at least one enslaved worker. He apparently never even visited "his" land that’s now known as Brattleboro. This information DOES NOT change the racist implications or importance of changing this name. 

Most of this information is from a 2010 article called The Ugly, Racially Charged Fight Over A Confederate Mascot. In Vermontby Emma Carmichael and a 2017 Reformer article called A colonel by any other name: School mascot debate echoes back to Brattleboro dispute by Kevin O’Connor. I hope you take the short amount of time to read the full articles.