Thank you so much for the sensitive and balanced editorial, "It's time to consider some changes on symbols that can divide us," (AC-T, April 30), about the elimination of Native American mascots and logos from use in N.C. schools.
Unfortunately, our own Erwin High is one of the 20 or more N.C. schools which retain names or symbols expropriated from Indian cultures.
That in spite of the fact that both the N.C. State Board of Education and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights have called for removal of all those stereotyping programs.
Wendell Begley, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Education is a highly-respected leading citizen of Black Mountain whose newspaper articles about local history add color and useful information to our hometown scene.
He is manifestly a good-hearted pillar in his town and in his church. Yet he seems to be surprisingly opposed to rectifying this societal and spiritual miscarriage.
In response to overtures for remedy, Chairman Begley was quoted in the AC-T of Aug. 26, 2001, as follows: "We're in compliance with the Justice Department ruling. We do not intend to revisit that issue. We've dealt with it as fairly and openly as we can and I don't intend to go back to it."
If Mr. Begley and the board he chairs are in compliance with the letter of the law they certainly are remiss in responding to the spirit of a law called love. That seems unrepresentative of the usual and expected responses from a man of such broad sympathies as Mr. Begley is known to be.
I am a member of an Asheville committee called the Mascot Education and Action Group. Other members include three Native Americans who live and work in our home areas; they represent the Cree, Blackfoot and Lakota Nations.
The committee also lists an Erwin High School senior and a teacher who was twice honored as Buncombe County Teacher of the Year. We have satellite members in the Eastern Cherokee Nation.
All of these people urgently look for the elimination of ethnically-demeaning caricatures. A popular retort from those who oppose the change judges from outside that there are "a lot more important priorities for those people than complaining about such a trivial issue."
How trivial is the issue of self-esteem for any human being?
Buncombe County and its school system have a timely opportunity for leadership in this "rehumanization" campaign.
Because our county and the school board have been so widely publicized across the state as a champion of resistance, Asheville's adoption of an elimination policy would have far-reaching effect, not unlike that of the recent inspiring and refreshing shift by Jesse Helms who declared he'd been mistaken in his refusals to push funding for AIDS treatment around the world. A former member of Asheville Citizen-Times President's Circle, Robert Phillips is a psychiatrist. He lives in Black Mountain.