A group of Fairfax High School students is trying to find a new school symbol to replace one that has reportedly cause friction between black and white students.
The controversial symbol is Johnny Reb carrying a bugle in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other.
Recently tension over display of the flag was said to have led to "angry words" and "a couple of fist fights" among several black and white students.
As a result of the outbreaks, othe black and white students have organized a drive to get Johnny Reb a new flag - one that is not so emotionally potent.
"Tension over the flag has been around for a while, it's just that it was hidden before," said Tammy Nicodemus, a sophomore and one of those who initiated the students' search for a new hammer.
Nicodemus, who is white, said she finds the flag "insulting to blacks."
Nicodemus and five other students, black and white, are informally organized in a committee students called "the big six" to find a new flag. The committee hopes to hold a school-wid contest in which students would submit ideas for a new flag to represent the school.
The best entry, to be judged by student vote, would become Johnny Reb's new flag. The contest idea awaits approval by the student congress at its next meeting. No meeting has been scheduled yet.
"Johnny Reb and the rebel flag was never the official symbol of the school as far as I am aware," said Page Trivett, an administrative aide who has been at Fairfax High nearly 12 years. "He just sort of appeared after we moved into the new school, and kids began carrying rebel flags to the new school."
Fairfax High School, the oldest in the county, moved to its present location at 3500 Old Lee Highway in 1971.
The Johnny Reb symbol is displayed on school cafeteria trays, on gym equipment bags bought by students and on emblems sold in student fundraisers.
The fights - numbering from one to four according to different students, teachers and administrators - occured during the week before Thanksgiving in response to an editorial that appeared Nov. 18 in the school newspaper.Fair Facts. The editorial said the rebel flag should not be used as a school symbol.
The editorial, written by Robin Taylor, a junior, said in part: "We (the majority of black students at Fairfax High School) feel that the rebel flag reminds us of too many years of black oppression...the rebel flag should be removed as a school symbol."
Robin said if she had not written the editorial, " somebody else would have.It had to come out in the open sometime."
"It (the editorial) caused more tension than anything else," Nicodemus said. "For a while it felt like a balloon was about to burst around here."
There are about 34 and 40 blacks among some 1,740 students attending Fairfax High School. Some teachers and administrators said black students have become increasingly more involved in organized student activities, but the majority of black students socialize little with white students. They said that the few students involved in the scattered fights were those least involved in student affairs and the least academically successful.
School principal Clarence Drayer likened relationships between white and black students to the kind of relations between "the jocks and the freaks...it's not a bad relationship, they just don't understand or communicate too much with each other."
Drayer said he is "aware of the kind of reaction a black student would have toward the rebel flag...it's being mixed up as a symbol of the school and a symbol of the rebel states."
Trivett noted that the students are "dealing with the whole affair very well among themselves, they have the capability to work everything out."
But already there are signs that the idea of replacing the rebel flag does not sit well with some Fairfax students. Another guest editorial in the Dec. 9 edition of Fair Facts by Fairfax senior Steve Simione says the rebel flag should not be removed as a school symbol:
"They (the flag and the name Rebels represent the fighting spirit of the students and are reminders of the bravery and leadership of past southerners, not the desire to own slaves or suppress the black race."
Nicodemus said several students have approached her to ask why she pursues changing the school symbol. "I tell them everyone in this school's got rights, black as well as whites," she said.