WNCCEIB letter to Buncombe County Board of Education

October 5, 1999

Mr. Wendell Begley, Chair
Board of Education/ Buncombe Co. Public Schools
175 Bingham Rd.
Asheville, NC 28806

Re: Clyde A. Erwin "Warrior" mascot
Symbol of a state & national concern

Dear Mr. Begley and Buncombe Co. School Board:

I am writing to share with you and other key local and state officials an update on the effort to eliminate American Indian mascots from the Buncombe Co. Public Schools. What follows are examples current developments:

ITEM: Dr. Cornel Pewewardy of the University of Kansas has requested that Bruce Two Eagles of the Buncombe Co. Intertribal Association make a presentation of the Erwin mascot situation at the 30th annual National Indian Education Association conference in Oklahoma City October 17-20. Dr. Pewewardy is one of the most well-known and respected American Indian educators in the country. 3000 Indian educators are expected to attend.

ITEM: Leonard Pitts, in a September 16, 1999 syndicated column in the Asheville Citizen-Times entitled, "Be a sport: Stop ethnic branding" raised the question: "If Americans of Irish descent are not up in arms about any of those (Fighting Irish mascots and imagery), why should Native people pitch a fit about a handful of sports teams? The answer is simple: It's easier to laugh when you're in on the joke, and Native people are not. See, there's a crucial difference between the Irish and the Natives. The one was assimilated, the other was decimated." (copy enclosed)

ITEM: In recent months both the national NAACP and the 1046 churches of the western North Carolina Methodist Convention passed powerful resolutions calling for the elimination of American Indian mascots. Locally, the NAACP participated with the Intertribal Association at an August 9 news conference pointing to the mascot issue as symbolic of racial indifference in the Buncombe Co. schools where, for example, in the 1998-99 school year, there were only three African-American elementary school teachers and zero American Indian teachers out of a total of 857 elementary teachers in the county.

ITEM: In east Tennessee, the Erwin situation has come up in regard to Elizabethton's Happy Valley High School which has a Warrior mascot complete with artificial scalps hanging in the gymnasium. We have been working closely with an Indian family there.

ITEM: On October 18 at 7pm on the show 'Outside the Lines,' ESPN will do a special one hour feature on the mascot issue nationwide; their producer has been in touch with us as I imagine with your staff.

ITEM: On Tuesday November 16 at 7 pm at Pack Memorial Library, the video "In Whose Honor?" will be shown to the public with a panel discussion to follow. (Flyer enclosed)

ITEM: On October 22, as part of the Asheville YWCA's Week Without Violence, a panel will raise the question of 'institutional bullying' with African-American, Hispanic, Jewish, and Native American families sharing their local experiences. The Erwin mascot issue will again be raised.

Many additional programs and examples could be given to demonstrate that the mascot issue has not gone away locally, and nationally it is getting more and more attention. From a political perspective, you may feel because of the compromise with the U.S. Justice Department that you need do nothing more about this issue. But, from a moral perspective and from that of a professional education system interested in the curriculum it is teaching, I hope you will choose to explore ways to do the right thing, to teach the right thing, not because you are forced to by the Justice Department or a threatened civil lawsuit, but because it is the right thing to do as good neighbors and as good educators.

I am writing to ask if the Board is taking now or planning to take in the near future any steps to encourage the elimination of the American Indian mascot at Erwin High School. There are a variety of steps that you could take to encourage such a decision and we would be pleased to work with you with suggestions and assistance. Please let me know if this idea is one you would like to explore. Thank you for your consideration and know, we would be pleased to see you and the other Board members at the October 21 screening of "In Whose Honor?"


Monroe Gilmour



cc: Dr. Bob Bowers, BCPS Superintendent
Mr. Mal Brown, Principal, Erwin High School
Mr. Tom Sobol, Chair Buncombe Co. Commissioners
Ms. Leni Sitnick, Mayor City of Asheville
Mr. Bob Smith, Executive Director, A/B Community Relations Council
Mr. John Hayes, President, Asheville Branch, NAACP
Mr. Jim Hunt, Governor, State of NC
Dr. Michael Ward, Supt. State Board of Education
Mr. Greg Richardson, Exec. Director, NC Commission of Indian Affairs
Mr. Eddie Lawrence, Exec. Director, NC Human Relations Commission