Loudoun County High School’s mascot will no longer be the Raiders, as the Loudoun County School Board unanimously voted early Tuesday in favor of its removal.
As Blue Ridge District Representative Ian Serotkin detailed last week, the Raiders moniker has Confederate roots, paying homage to John S. Mosby, who commanded a battalion of Confederate soldiers known as Mosby’s Raiders, Mosby’s Rangers or Mosby’s men.
Per Serotkin, Mosby’s Raiders were “noted for their lightning-strike raids on Union targets and their ability to consistently elude pursuit,” and they “disrupted Union communications and supply lines.”
The mascot was selected out of four options in 1954 by the then-segregated, all-white LCHS student body. Further, Serotkin said the Confederate flag was part of the school’s emblem until community protests resulted in its removal in the late 1970s after Black LCHS parent Gene Ashton chopped the symbology off the school sign with an ax, prompting community protests.
Many of the nearly 300 public commenters at Monday’s School Board meeting — which ran until roughly 1:20 a.m. Tuesday — vocalized their support for the Raider mascot’s removal.
LCHS Class of 2008 graduate and Yale research scientist Kristy Clark cited a study that suggests minority high-school students who are exposed to racially insensitive mascots “had lower self-esteem … than teens who were not exposed to such mascots.”
“By retaining Raiders, a mascot with Confederate origins, how many students of color are we reminding, ‘This is how we see you — through the lens of the Confederacy’?” Clark later added.
Conversely, a handful of commenters, including Robert Ferraro, favored keeping the Raiders moniker intact and re-contextualizing it to honor similarly-named Union squadrons. Ferraro referred to the Andrews Raiders, a team of Union soldiers led by civilian spy James J. Andrews.
“It is time to change that homage or association, just like it is time to cease glorifying the Confederacy by creating a new origin,” he said.
However, no School Board members concurred with the calls to change the mascot’s namesake rather than the mascot itself. After making the motion to call for the mascot’s removal, Serotkin explained Mosby’s legacy was pervasive in his family’s former Aldie community, whence he would travel on John S. Mosby Highway to go to work each day.
“I have had enough of being reminded of the Confederacy every time I drive across my district and my county, but it doesn’t really matter how I feel. I’ve heard loud and clear from Black students and parents on this issue. Imagine how they feel driving across a county with the Confederacy still plastered all over it, and we don’t have to imagine because they’ve told us over the course of the last month, and really since 1954,” Serotkin said.
“We cannot continue to venerate those who took up arms against the United States of America to defend slavery, not with our monuments, not with our roads, and not with our schools and our mascots,” he added. “Black lives matter, and Black students matter.”
Beth Barts (Leesburg District), whose son is an LCHS graduate, said she has had to undergo a period of “personal growth” after learning of the Raiders’ origins, and that she “fully support[s] changing the mascot without question.”
She continued, “People may question, ‘What good does changing the name do?’ It stops perpetuating a hateful history, it closes a chapter and allows the community, our community, to move on and focus on the change needed to end systemic racism. The history of the Civil War should be taught; however, it should not be celebrated with our mascot.”
“The Confederacy is a huge black mark on our history, and I think we need to make sure that we eradicate this, whatever the cost may be,” Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) later added.
The board’s decision follows several weeks of worldwide racial tension, which has led many southern localities, including Loudoun County, to reconsider the presence of publicly-displayed Confederate imagery.
A number of participants in the meeting’s public comment section criticized the board for responding last week to the LCPS Action Plans to Combat Systemic Racism — which Superintendent Eric Williams presented — with a brief conversation that only touched upon the issue of the LCHS mascot, rather than delving into other pressing issues.
Jeff Morse (Dulles District) responded to these critiques by saying the mascot change is “not the only action that we are focused on; it just merely is the first action we are focused on.”
School Board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) said before the vote she had spoken with Williams to figure out a way to work the mascot change into the division’s budget, which has undergone extensive alteration amid the COVID-19 health crisis.
LCPS staff will later engage the LCHS community to decide on a new mascot for the school, according to board documents.
Monday’s Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/432888169.