D.S. Freeman High School Reflects On Its History

This video was done by a couple of students at D.S. Freeman High School in Richmond, Virginia as part of a school wide discussion centered on whether they should get rid of their “Rebel” mascot.  The video offers a nice overview of the school’s history and includes a number of interviews with students and teachers.  Well done.

10 comments… add one
  • Dudley Bokoski Nov 18, 2011 @ 10:11

    The “rebel” nickname carries too much baggage these days and getting rid of it would probably be better for the memory of Freeman if it went quietly away. Disconnected from the nickname issue, it would allow people interested in where the school name came from to learn more about Freeman in a positive context.

    Freeman was, in addition to being Lee’s biographer, a newspaper editor and radio commentator in RIchmond. For the time he was a moderate on racial issues (which isn’t saying much, but history is about context) and an opponent of the none-to=progressive Byrd administration.

    I doubt either timing of the naming of the school or the nickname had the least to do with Brown v Board of Education. You have to remember that Freeman was probably the most famous person Richmond had produced in a long time and had just died the year before. It was an easy choice to name a school for him. As for “rebel” I suspect it was just done to try to tie in to Freeman’s field of study, what with so few teams named “Writers” or “Commentators”.

    You have to remember this, too, about Virginia. There is an old joke that it takes three Virginians to change a light bulb. One to change the bulb, one to hold the ladder, and one to reminisce about the old light bulb. So rebels isn’t automatically (in 1954) a political statement. I think it definitely would have been in the 60’s, but I’m not so sure in 54′.

  • Lyle Smith Nov 13, 2011 @ 14:15

    My father was a high school principal of a rural Louisiana public high school during integration and unilaterrally decided to get rid of the school mascot… the Rebels.

    He had the white students or the student body council (the school wasn’t integrated yet) vote on a new name. They voted for the Chiefs interestingly enough.

    • Pat Young Nov 13, 2011 @ 17:59

      I noticed that the neo-Conf Virginia War Between the States site is encouraging its fans to visit the video, so expect some nasty comments for the students. The students did a great job with the video.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2011 @ 18:34

        Those kids know way more history than the woman who posted that retort. They can handle it.

  • Andy Hall Nov 13, 2011 @ 7:42

    Great video exploring a difficult subject. A few thoughts, in no special order:

    1. D. S. Freeman High School would be getting back to their origins if the adopted as their mascot, the Fightin’ Pulitzers.

    2. Freeman’s biography of Lee is problematic in many ways, not least of which is the author’s unabashed worship of the man, which causes him to gloss over or even reject outright negative aspects of Lee’s character, but it’s nonetheless a tremendous work, and it’s good to see a high school named after an historian.

    3. Against No. 2, it seems clear that the naming of the school was likely a response to Brown v. Board, as many such decisions were (e.g., Simkins Hall at the University of Texas).

    4. Finally, schools like D. S. Freeman and its Rebel mascot present the same sort of conundrum as Confederate monuments — over time, they themselves become part of the cultural landscape, and take on their own meanings within their communities. Such mascots cannot be separated from their original inspiration, but neither should one ignore the fact that those symbols are bound up in more recent history, and carry different meanings to others.

    No easy answers, are there?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2011 @ 8:00


      I agree that Freeman’s study of Lee is problematic on a number of fronts, most notably in the failure to deal with his views on race and slavery. That said, it is an impressive study that I find myself going back to more than most studies of Lee. There are no easy answers and I like the fact that the students didn’t try to impose one in their video. It’s an ongoing discussion.

  • Ray O'Hara Nov 13, 2011 @ 7:11

    A very well done video, kudos to the girls who made it.
    the cluelessness of the DSF teachers was disconcerting.
    While the principle did seem to know the date she still acted like it was the still 1950s,

    They justified it because Freeman wrote the Lee biography, well he wrote a George Washington biography too. They could have easily chosen a GW theme and Revolution mascot and have kept the Rebels name and the “Betsy Ross” flag is attractive with its circular field of stars.

    The video mentions other schools in the South and their dealing with the controversy, too bad they don’t seem to know about Walpole HS in Walpole Ma. which called it’s teams The Rebels and used the CBF as it’s team symbo and as the helmet logpl , Walpole has since changed it and tries to discourage fans flying it it still appears at games flown by unreconstructed fans. I wonder how the CBF supporters wiould have spun that, maybe they would have pointed to it and said since Yankees where using it could it really be racist? Walpole is is 95% white and under 2% Black , numbers that are pretty typical of Norfolk county as a whole.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2011 @ 7:21

      They justified it because Freeman wrote the Lee biography, well he wrote a George Washington biography too. They could have easily chosen a GW theme and Revolution mascot and have kept the Rebels name and the “Betsy Ross” flag is attractive with its circular field of stars.

      My guess is that Freeman is better known for his work on Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia and rightly so. He was an incredibly talented historian and a superb writer. I am also willing to venture that the memory of the Civil War was much more prevalent in the Richmond area in the 1950s as opposed to the Revolution.

      • Ray O'Hara Nov 13, 2011 @ 8:27

        Freeman is indeed a top flight historian and his books are very good as he could turn a phrase, a well written book enhances the information it contains.

        And sure the logo and theme do reflect the 50s and 60s with the rise of civil rights and the fall of Jim Crow.

        But the issue is today and Freeman did write a GW bio that is extensive as the Lee and ANV books, also the CW memory is number 1, but Revolution history is still a large part of Va history, there are the homes of the Founders GW’s Tom Jefferson’s and Jame’s Madisons are all preserved as historic sites and they are well promoted, there is Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown so while the CW is number 1 the Revolution is a very close 2nd and in my many visits to the Old Dominion I’ve found the Rev sites and parks every bit as busy. So how hard would it be to just switch the school’s focus to GW , it would still honor Freeman and still honor Va . It’s 2011 time to move on past the 1950s. The “it’s tradition” doesn’t play anymore, there are other traditions there too, and I’d bet your average American can name more Virginian Founding Fathers than Confederates, I’d bet more Virginians could too. After you get past Lee I doubt anyone could name a major Va Confederate Leader, we all can rattle off GW, TJ .Madison, Monroe, Patrick Henry.

        Its time for them to move on.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2011 @ 8:38

          I just don’t see kids getting so excited about that particular gang.

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