The mascot of the University of Southern California was deemed racist by a student group.
The mascot, a white horse ridden by a trojan warrior, has taken on new meaning in the current post-Charlottesville race climate, and led to much debate within the school community as well as on social media. Because of the color of the horse, and because of its name—Traveler—some students are starting to look at it as a symbol of racism.
Students say that Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s horse, also white, had a similar name.
The university’s white horse is named “Traveler” (spelled slightly differently from General Lee’s horse “Traveller”) is a USC tradition at sporting events. The horse parades across the field before games as other white horses with the same name have done since 1961. Traveler IX, the newest successor of the tradition, is scheduled to take the football field this fall, as the Los Angeles Times reports.
Co-director of the Black Student Assembly at USC, Saphia Jackson, urged students at a rally condemning the Charlottesville protest violence, to speak up about white supremacy, and made reference to the school’s horse mascot.
Richard Saukko is the man who rode the original Traveler horse across USC’s field decades ago. He died in 1992, but his widow, Pat Saukko DeBernardi, addressed the issue.
“The problem is this: maybe three weeks ago it was fine,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “So now the flavor of the day is . . . we all have to be in hysteria. . . . It’s more of a political issue. The horse isn’t political and neither am I.”
She also says that the naming of the horse wasn’t up to her husband. The horse already had a name when the late Saukko purchased him for $5,000 in 1958.
The LA Times article points to potential connections between the name of Traveler and General Lee’s horse, but also points to evidence of no connection.
“Over at USC they’re nonpolitical about their horse,” Saukko’s widow said. “What if their name would be Lee? Would they want to change it? It doesn’t make any difference. … He’s a wonderful horse and a great mascot.”
After the Charlottesville protest violence, instances of increased racial discussion and a re-examining of minutiae for potential racial symbolism have ignited.
General Lee, the historical figure at the heart of the protest and counterprotests in Charlottesville was originally going to fight for the Union against the South and the Confederacy, but changed to the side of the Confederacy when his home state of Virginia chose to secede from the United States, as The New Republic writes. According to historians, he changed sides because he wouldn’t dare fight against his home state and not because he had any particular wish to continue slavery.