Many of the people in this blog work in academia in the United States. Many of these schools have Confederate mascots or Confederate statues. Here are a few examples of schools with Confederate mascots and how they handled them. I will also include my personal opinion on how they handled the situation.
University of Las Vegas Rebels
The current mascot of the UNLV Rebels is “Hey Reb” pictured above. The UNLV’s official stance is the mascot is not connected to the Old South and has not been since the 1970’s after students protested. The UNLV website has the following quote on the name “Rebel”:
”In the 1960’s especially, it [Rebels] symbolized those who rejected convention, tradition, racism…Most of all, in southern Nevada it stood for those who had opposed northern domination in the state legislature and unwanted dependency upon Reno”
The original mascot of the UNLV was the wolf Beauregard clad in a Confederate uniform. Originally, UNLV was called Nevada Southern. The reason the school chose a Confederate mascot was Nevada Southern started as a branch the University of Nevada Reno. Nevada Southern had to declare independence from UNR. They saw themselves as modern day rebels and chose a Confederate motif for their school. To contrast the UNR Wolf Pack, Nevada chose the cartoon wolf in Confederate uniform winking and smirking. The UNLV official website contends that the mascot was not meant to offend, but be a playful jab at the larger school.
The Confederate motif did not stop at sports. The Nevada Southern student government called itself “The Confederate Students of Nevada Southern.” The largest school social event was the “Confederate Cotillion, ” and the school paper was called “Rebel Yell.”
Students began to protest the Confederate motif in the 1970’s. Student athletes that refused to wear the wolf logo led the protests. The students were allowed to vote on the wolf logo and the name “Rebel”in 1971. The students chose to get rid of the wolf but keep the name rebel. The wolf was officially dropped in 1975. In the 1970’s, the school transitioned between the UNLV Sun logo and a colonial soldier logo both pictured below.
In 1983 UNLV, transitioned to its modern day trailblazer. The original logo is below. After a few years, the mascot was named “Hey Reb!”. Over the years the logo has changed, but it always had a gray hat and long mustache.
Many people have been protested recently against “Hey Reb!”. In 2015 two hundred students protested the name. The Charleston killings sparked the protest. Senator Harry Reid also encouraged UNLV to change the name. There was even an internet campaign to replace “Hey Reb!” with Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars Rebel Alliance.
To UNLV’s credit, it is one of the most diverse campuses. A 2015 LA Times article claims it has around 50% minority enrollment. According to the same article all but one member of the undergraduate Black Student Organization supported the mascot. Most of the minorities polled in a recent survey admitted the mascot looked like a Confederate Soldier.
Historically the UNLV was not segregated, and a 1962 Rebel Yell article condemned the University of Mississippi for not integrating. Bill Casey, a black man, played quarterback for the UNLV rebel in 1968. The 1968 team also had the Confederate battle flag on the helmet. Casey said he did not experience any racism on that team.
Nevada’s Civil War and Civil Rights History
Nevada entered the Union in 1864. Of course, it supported the North which was the only way it could gain entry. Lincoln waved the population requirement to ensure there would be enough congressional votes to pass the thirteenth amendment.
Many of Nevada’s original settlers were from the South. There was always fear that Southern sympathizers would try to overthrow Union installation. The Knights of the Golden Circle, a later faction of the KKK, were very active in the area. However, a strong Union troop presence squelched any serious resistance. The part of Nevada that holds Las Vegas was part of Arizona at the time. The Arizona Territory sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Las Vegas has a fraught racial history, and Nevada earned the name “Mississippi of the West.” A 1954 Ebony magazine article claimed the segregation there was as bad as any place in the Deep South. All black people had to stay in the slum of West Las Vegas. There is even a story of a black woman being sent to jail simply because there was nowhere else for her to stay. There were reform efforts but those that supported gambling fought against black people. However, blacks continued to fight and desegregated Casinos in the Moulin Rouge Agreement in 1960.
Justification of the name “Rebels”
Another justification is that the basketball team is known colloquially as the “Runnin’ Rebels.” In the 1980’s the team was dominant in their division, and they were known nationwide as “Runnin’ Rebels.” To change the name would break the basketball history. Also, another name would not have the alliteration and ring.
Personal opinion on if the Mascot should change
The UNLV mascot should be changed to something that can’t be mistaken for Confederate. Even though the official school statement says the mascot is a pathfinder, depictions of his head with only a gray hat would lead a person to believe the mascot is a Confederate soldier. A change as simple as changing the hat to the other school color of crimson and the name to HeyJeb! would be enough to stop any confusion.
Nevada has no official Confederate history. Nevada was part of the Union in the war. The Southern sympathizers in the state were jailed or executed. There is no one from the state they are honoring with the name Rebels.
Given the stereotype or perception that Las Vegas is a racist place, the University must work diligently to fight this misconception. Ultimately, qualified candidates from all minority backgrounds will be turned off by the mascot. It would also make more sense and be more historically accurate to honor the Union troops that fought in the Civil War or some other aspect of Nevada history everyone could celebrate. Ultimately, UNLV and the state of Nevada is bigger than a mascot.
By claiming the mascot is not a Confederate, with the name HeyReb and a gray hat, they are doing the minorities at the school the worst disservice. Some of the most severe psychological trauma happens a person is told what he sees, thinks, and feels is not real. To say that the people that created that mascot did not have it planned the entire time to portray him as a Confederate is silly. The creators of the mascot knew full well that if the mascot only had the hat, he could be seen as a Confederate. It doesn’t matter if the depiction of the entire mascot has him in a red, western-style coat. Most depictions have the mascot in a gray hat with the word Rebel underneath. The insult to black people’s intelligence is doubled when supporters act like the mascot and symbols could not easily be changed.
If the mascot does not change, school officials should expect black and minority students to not support the team unless they are playing and not buy merchandise. I have heard many times in my life that black students have less school pride or patriotism. Situations like the UNLV Rebels, makes black people feel disenfranchised. Once a person feels disenfranchised, they will act out or isolate themselves.