Tag Archives: Johnny Reb

Journeys in Anti-Racism Work

Tascosa High School Yearbook

One of the most interesting aspects of doing anti-racism work is finding out from my fellow white friends what brought them to this seemingly Quixotic endeavor. Rarely is the story linear; usually it is complicated.

I grew up in a family where I heard the “n” word used constantly by my maternal grandparents. My great, great grandparents enslaved people – they bought and sold men, women and children and likely worked them from sunup to sundown and whipped them because that was acceptable if the help got uppity.

In recent years when I’ve raised questions about this heritage, I’ve been assured by my mother and others in the family that my great, great grandfather, who fought in the Civil War to maintain the right to own people, was “one of the good slaveowners.”

I cannot reconcile how owning another human being and controlling every aspect of his/her life can be “good.”

In addition to that background, I attended Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Texas in the mid 1970s. When I entered Tascosa and when desegregation was beginning in that Panhandle city, the school mascot was Johnny Reb, the school song was “Dixie” and the Stars and Bars flew on a flagpole outside the school and was waved by cheerleaders during sporting events. The image you see above is from our yearbook.

The parents of black students who were bused across Amarillo objected to their kids having to walk past the ROTC kids raising a Confederate flag as their children disembarked from buses. They also didn’t think it right that their children had to walk into the school commons where a mural of Johnny Reb greeted them. They also found the school song and mascot offensive.

Because I was fortunate enough to serve as a page at the Texas Capitol the second semester of my sophomore year, I missed a great deal of the tension and anxiety that occurred in my high school that spring. Letters from my friends detailed friction and fights between those who wanted to change and those who preferred to maintain the status quo.

After all, they were just celebrating southern heritage. What is the harm in that?

During my junior year, thanks to leadership from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the mascot was changed to the Rebel Kid, which sort of looks like a cowboy. The school song was a revised version of the University of Texas’ fight song to the dismay of parents who were Aggies.

School board and school officials were forced to “allow” African American students who would have been leaders in their then-shuttered high school to serve on student council and as cheerleaders.

All that contributed to festering tensions and invisible lines drawn down the hallways where black students walked on one side and white students on the other. While classrooms were desegregated; the cafeteria and social activities were not.

At our 40th high school reunion last year, I was not surprised that only one African American graduate showed up, And, he didn’t stay long.

High school years are rarely fondly remembered. To have been a black student at Tascosa during that time must have been extraordinarily difficult.

Those memories faded over the years as I went off to college and started a career and family. We lived in the Houston area for 11 years before moving to Georgetown in 1995. The lack of diversity when we first moved here was quite stark after working in an international and cosmopolitan city during the oil boom.

Then the trainings I received at Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the state association of programs that advocate for children in the foster care system,  made me realize that racism wasn’t a bygone problem.

The more I learned, the more I realized how insidious and invasive the problem is. As a CASA volunteer, I saw how families of color and their children were treated differently by the Child Protection System, the educational and medical systems.

After nearly 60 years, the scales finally fell from my eyes. I cannot unsee what I have seen or unknow what I now know.

As a person of faith, I am called to follow the teachings of my faith, which is to love, care for and treat every person as children of our creator regardless of faith, gender, race, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation

And, I feel compelled to work to call out and dismantle systems of institutionalized racism whenever and wherever I see it. I may have limited impact on what happens at the national or state levels. But, I can work to transform Georgetown and Williamson County so they are more inclusive communities, welcoming to all who come.

I invite you to get actively  involved in this movement known as Courageous Conversations of Georgetown.

Katherine Kerr
Communications Chair, CCGTX