PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Students in Pinellas County are on a mission to change the name and mascot of a public school and sever ties to what they consider a racist history.
Dixie Hollins in Kenneth City is named after Pinellas County’s first school superintendent, but some current and former students worry the name “Dixie” and the mascot “rebels” send the wrong message.
“My first experience at Dixie was a nightmare,” Sevell Brown III, the national director of the National Christian League of Councils, said.
Brown is a former Dixie Hollins High School student and was one of the first black students to attend the school back in the 1960s.
Brown says his first impression as a freshman in the school’s auditorium ingrained his memories there.
“The administration were urging everyone to stand as they sung the school song, which was the unofficial national anthem of the confederacy: ‘I wish I was in Dixie’,” Brown recalled.
Brown says he refused to stand and was called racial slurs by white students.
“That’s when they threw me out of the auditorium,” Brown remembers.
Over the years, Dixie Hollins High School has made a lot of changes, including to their logo, which once resembled a confederate soldier on horseback.
Now, 300 people have signed a petition started by current Dixie Hollins students to drop the Rebels mascot and change the name of the school from Dixie Hollins to "Hollins High School."
Even Hollin’s great-granddaughter, Jen Cox, says she supports the idea, signing the petition and writing “It’s important to remove something that glorifies hatred and racism.”
“We need to get rid of any racist vestiges that are left at that school that have fostered a really harmful, hurtful racist climate there,” Cox explained to ABC Action News.
Cox says her great-grandfather advocated for black students to have access and equality in education, by pushing for longer school days for black students and recruiting black teachers. He also donated land for schools to be built upon and still contributes to the music education programs at Dixie Hollins High School.
“It’s super ironic that my great-grandfather was given the first name associated with racism and hatred when that’s not at all what he stood for,” Cox said.
Cox says she’d like to see his first name dropped from the school, which would still honor her great-grandfather’s history but sever any perceived links to the Confederate movement.
Not everyone is on board the change. Some argue it’s simply a part of history. Yet for brown, he says that time in history is painful.
“Enough is enough. America, let’s move on,” he elaborated.
Brown would like to see a whole new name created for the school, which would signify opportunities for all students.
The Principal of Dixie Hollins High School plans to meet with students to discuss ideas this fall.
Cox also says she has spoken with school and district leaders to express her support.