Portland Activists Say Evergreen Is a 'Tree of Death'

School board member expressed 'concern' for a tree mascot because of ties to lynching

MONROE, OR - NOVEMBER 18: Rows of Douglas Fir Christmas trees stand in a field at the Holiday Tree Farms on November 18, 2017 in Monroe, Oregon. The Christmas tree harvest is underway at Holiday Tree Farms, the biggest grower of holiday trees in the United States, as workers harvest and ship an estimated one million trees ahead of the Christmas holiday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
April 5, 2021

Portland Public Schools' Board of Education delayed a vote to approve an evergreen mascot over concerns that the symbol is connected to lynching and could be misperceived as "a tree of death." 

Students and faculty at Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School overwhelmingly selected an evergreen tree to replace its former Trojans mascot in a recent survey. Board director Michelle DePass delayed the board's approval vote on the mascot over concerns that evergreens could evoke ties to lynchings, the Portland Tribune reported.

"I’m wondering if there was any concern with the imagery there, in using a tree ... as our mascot?" DePass said at the March 30 board meeting. "I think everyone comes with blind spots and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot." 

The mascot-renaming committee proposed the evergreen for its "life-giving force" and "the depth of [its] roots." One committee member, however, said he understood how others could see the symbol as "a tree of death." 

"We did talk about it, but we were looking at the symbolism more as a tree of life, than a tree of death," Martin Osborne, a committee member, said. "You could certainly take it either way, depending on your position." 

Oregon’s state tree is the Douglas Fir, a type of evergreen tree. The board is slated to revisit the mascot issue during its next meeting. 

In December, the board voted to change the high school's namesake to Ida B. Wells-Barnett from Woodrow Wilson—a Democratic president and KKK sympathizer—to honor the black activist and journalist. 

Several schools and professional sports teams across the United States have abandoned mascots deemed derogatory or offensive after the wave of riots and racial unrest in 2020. Public school districts in Michigan and Iowa announced this year they would drop their "derogatory" Indian mascots. The Washington Football Team—formerly the Washington Redskins—in July announced they would no longer use its "offensive" mascot or Native American imagery.