We have a history, me and you. You are the first place I ever called home, the town I safely trekked through many backyards to get to middle school. (Yes, I walked to middle school; No, we didn’t live across the street. I also bummed rides off random classmates and their poor overworked mothers too.) Maryville, we had our first crush together, and we chased boys, driving by Sandy Springs every Saturday night to see if so and so’s car was parked. Oh, and don’t forget when we sneaked off into the Maryville College woods to learn how to smoke cigarettes! I’ll admit, that was my idea, and it was a terrible one. But whether we were learning to ride our bikes or hunting for crawdads in the creek or slogging through junior English class, me and you, we created a lasting history and an unbreakable bond.
I’m so, so proud to say I came from you, my little town smack dab in the middle of the south that bucked the confederates during the Civil War. I want to say thank you for being a place of refuge, of being the kind of town where I knew everyone, seemed like. I rushed so quickly from your safety, traveling the summer we graduated and then immediately leaving for college. In all these years, my family ties have remained, my childhood church still standing with doors wide open, and you still welcoming of each of my regular homecomings.
I recently decided to visit you in one of the most common ways we visit our youth, through the pages of my yearbook. 1994 was our year. I remember us. We were cute! But you know what else?
We were self absorbed.
In those pages were our dance photos and our festivals and clubs and our Friday night games and our friends. And on our senior page, we gathered on the bleachers holding signs and squinting into the sun… Squinting into the sun and holding none other than nine confederate flags. Nine. I’m holding the corner of one myself. I remember that day, and I remember not thinking twice holding that corner, being that the confederate flag represented our school.
Of course I knew what else it stood for and that it was considered a racist emblem. It was 1994. We worked against racism as we could recognize it in 1994, never really stopping long enough to consider we were committing racist acts ourselves Every. Time. We. Held. That. Flag.
We were the Rebels. That’s all.
Today, the flag is gone, Johnny Reb is getting forced into retirement, and the Rebels can march onward.
Why would we change the name now?
Because once we adopted that flag and used the Johnny Reb caricature while screaming our Rebel call, we connected all those symbols together. Those stains, those memories don’t just get washed out of our memory cloth because a lawsuit finally convinced the school board to rid itself of the negative association.
See, Maryville, memory cloths go deeper than legally severed ties and simple explanations. The colors embedded stay permanently, and for many their cloth holds the stain of racism. I’m saddened to say we did that to our neighbors, to those we have called friends. And while we cannot reweave the memory cloths in better colors, we can certainly use those dark stains as a motivation to balance them with light.
Those of us today did not create the association of the Maryville Rebels with the confederacy and the confederate soldier and the flag. It was not our doing. That is on those that came before. But it is our doing if we let that association remain. It is our racism to own by continuing to call ourselves the Rebels, a name now tainted. I for one, refuse to do so. When my recent friends viewed my yearbook, they gawked at that senior photo, asking me how I survived such an ignorant upbringing. Outsiders catching a glimpse into my high school experience immediately think I had to overcome my racist childhood. They cannot see past those nine flags or the Rebel name. I am in my forties and still explaining my past to those not from MHS. I cannot bring myself to show my Black friends my yearbook. I actively hide it when my sons have friends over. It stays under my bed, not in my bookshelves.
So Maryville, while you cared and nurtured and lovingly educated me to be able to spread my wings, I have to be honest. We must address this blindspot of ours. It’s no longer permissible to be the old eccentric racist at the family reunion. We cannot keep making excuses while looking away. Somehow our ancestors knew better in the 1860’s and frankly, we know better now.
Patricia (Cox) Hatch, class of 1994
**I respectfully ask the Maryville School Board to retire the name “Rebels” in favor of a new name that fits the spirit of our growing and diverse community and that sheds a positive light on our school.**