Published in the April 15, 2016 edition


MELROSE — Melrose High School has ditched its school logo.

The MHS “dreamcatcher” logo (a red M encircled by a feathered dreamcatcher) has been dropped in favor of an encircled block letter M after complaints from those who consider the symbol cultural appropriation. The dreamcatcher logo surfaced over a decade ago but does not appear on school uniforms or the turf of Fred Green Football field.

Nothing has officially been filed at the local Human Rights Commission but Superintendent of Schools Cyndy Taymore revealed to a media source last week that concerns from some community members prompted the change. “After discussing concerns about the logo with some parents and community members and then exploring the history of the logo, I made a decision to take the feathers off. This is an interim measure while we plan on how to best develop a new logo that honors our history,” she stated.

On Tuesday, Taymore spoke in front of the School Committee and informed those in attendance that she notified the school board in February that the feathers would be coming off. “In absence of school committee policy I have the authority to make those decisions,” she said.

The decision calls into to question whether the mascot name “Red Raider” will be next, an issue that has drawn passionate reaction from some locals on social media who claim it is political correctness run amok. Yet a number of residents attended Tuesday’s night’s school board meeting to vocalize their opposition to the Red Raider name, including Heather Lovell, who called for a full or partial drop of the Red Raider name and removal of all Native American imagery or connection.

Altering the name “Red Raider” lacks the backing from Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan. “The truth is, we’ve never had an official mascot,” he states. “One hundred years ago we were the Red and White, then the Raiders, then the Red Raiders. What you see on the football field is just the big red M and it will continue to be.”   (see his official statement, sidebar)

Prior to the change Melrose was one of 43 Massachusetts high schools that currently use Native American symbols in their athletic logos, according to the New England Anti Mascot Coalition. That includes our neighbors Saugus and Winchester (Sachems) and Wakefield (Warriors). Unlike Melrose, those communities use Native American profiles in their official logos and, to date, appear unconcerned about perceived cultural appropriation.  Historically, the MIAA has never intervened on the issue, leaving it up to individual municipalities to debate the issue.

From about 1970 to the 1990s Melrose was associated with a caricature of a running Indian wielding a machete, an image that was the result of a Melrose newspaper contest, according to Melrose Athletic Hall of Fame President John Connery. It unofficially decorated some MHS sport paraphernalia, linking Raiders to Native Americans. That image was quietly replaced in the 1990s when the dreamcatcher was officially adopted for Melrose High School’s promotional material.

According to Connery, the dreamcatcher showed up rather mysteriously. “It really appeared overnight, I’m assuming at the direction of the (then) Superintendent,” Connery says. “But in terms of the name Red Raider — the color red predates any association with any Native American logo. It has been Melrose’s school colors for close to 100 years.”

Red Raiders are often depicted in sport logos as pirates, horses or in the case of Texas Tech University, a Yosemite Sam-styled shooter. Raiders also derive from Norse tradition, as Vikings are often referred to as the “Raiders of the North.” One thing Raiders aren’t is a tribe of Native Americans but they have often been depicted in that light, leading some to consider the term “red” in Red Raiders a link to skin color and thus for Melrose, cultural appropriation.

History reveals a 100 year tradition at MHS

One local historian suggests this jump might be based on a false assumption. Ward Hamilton is a former Red Raider and 1990 MHS grad who has spent copious hours researching the history of the Red Raider name that dates back nearly 100 years.

The Melrose resident discovered a connection to the 22nd Bombardier Group known as “The Red Raiders”  (named after Col. Richard “Red” Robertson) who patrolled the sky around the time Melrose High adopted the Red Raider as its mascot – in its 1938 yearbook. A well-known book “Revenge of the Red Raiders” by Lawrence Hickey illustrates the history of the 22nd Bombardment Group.

Melrose High lost several bombardiers in the war, such as Henry Ingersoll (MHS 1935) whose unit was referred to as the “Doolittle Raiders,” and George McRae (MHS 1942). Hamilton contends that Melrose students likely embraced the Red Raider title as a battle cry during wartime years. Hamilton also points out that sport teams were referred to as Raiders or the Red Raiders in the 1945 yearbook that prominently depicted images of WWII bombers. He says, “Research indicates that during World War II the school adopted the famed 22nd Operations Group, also called the ‘Red Raiders.’ Several long-time Melrose residents have come forward to support that assertion. One thing is clear: for decades before 1955 there was no correlation between the ‘Red Raider’ mascot and Native Americans.”

According to Mayor Dolan, Hamilton’s findings should provide a valuable learning experience about the city’s Red Raider tradition, in particular, their WWII vets. “Melrose did the right thing by abandoning that caricature and chants at games,” he says. “Melrose as a city evolves and demonstrates concern for sensitive issues but we also believe in honoring history and not engaging in political football.”

Hamilton suggests maintaining the name “Red Raider” in honor of the WWII airmen, keeping a block Red M as the logo (as currently seen on the football field) and adopting a motto of “We Lead,” the official motto of the Red Raider 22nd bomb squadron.

MPS-Logo-webHamilton’s suggestion could be a fair compromise for a city that dedicates most public buildings to the memory of its veterans. Then again, the issue could prove contentious.

On Tuesday, Taymore indicated the difficulty in decision making. “The logo was the right thing to do and an easy decision. The conversation about the Red Raider name is harder.”

Taymore acknowledged that mascot debate doesn’t fall as high a priority as the school’s budget worries. “That is our first obligation. What happens next [with the logo] is an exploration.”

Dolan concluded. “This is a healthy discussion. But it’s my belief that cultural sensitivities in Melrose and the Red Raider name can and should coexist. What you see on the football field, the simple M, is our Melrose brand.”