LOS ANGELES – In the wake of the Charlottesville debacle, the Black Student Assembly at the University of Southern California is looking for social justice and taking aim at the school’s mascot – a chalk-white horse named Traveler.
The name, USC BSA co-director Saphia Jackson said, is racist because it’s similar to the name of Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller.
Amid clapping, speeches and other antics from social justice warriors who rallied at a statue of Tommy Trojan on campus last week, Jackson urged her classmates to take action against “white supremacy” – whether real or perceived.
From the Daily Trojan:
Saphia Jackson, co-director of the USC Black Student Assembly, opened the rally encouraging students not to remain silent, and reminding those in attendance that white supremacy hits close to home, referring to the presence of Traveler, USC’s mascot, which bears a name similar to Robert E. Lee’s horse, and the attempted removal of a statue depicting him motivated much of the violence in Virginia.
BSA co-Directors Saphia Jackson and Ariana Seymore declined to comment on if they would seek to remove Traveler’s statue from campus.
The BSA did not return the Los Angeles Times’ request for comment about the allegations of racism against the school’s decades old mascot.
But the news site reports the animal’s background has nothing to do with Robert E. Lee.
Richard Saukko first galloped the Arabian horse named Traveler around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum nearly 56 years ago, and the stunt soon became “one of college football’s iconic traditions,” the Times reports.
“A succession of white horses named Traveler have followed – Traveler IX debuts this fall – trotting out of the tunnel as ‘Conquest’ plays and the costumed Trojan warrior atop the horse waves a sword,” according to the Times.
Saukko, who died in 1992, donated the horse to the university. He initially purchased the horse – which performed in the movies “Snowfire,” “The Ballad of a Gunfighter” and others – for $5,000 because it developed a bad attitude.
“He was a movie horse and he turned mean,” Saukko told the Times years ago. “That’s how I got him so cheap. A few months later, he’d become so gentle again, people wouldn’t believe it’s the same horse.”
The Times contacted Saukko’s widow, Pat Saukko DeBernardi, who seemed to think the allegations of racism are ridiculous.
“The problem is this: maybe three weeks ago it was fine,” she said. “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.”
DeBernardi also pointed out that Traveler is spelt with one “l” and Lee’s horse is spelt with two. The horse was also already named with Saukko purchased him in 1958.
A USC spokesman did not discuss the allegations against the allegedly racist horse, and instead simply pointed the Times to the animal’s history as documented on the school’s website.
“USC’s mascot horse is a symbol of ancient Troy. Its rider, with costume and sword, is a symbol of a Trojan warrior,” the website read. “The name Traveler, spelled with one ‘l,’ is a common name among horses. … USC’s Traveler is and has always been a proud symbol of Troy. There is no truth to any other claims or rumors about its name.”
The Times points out that Traveler’s name is trademarked by USC, which rents out his services for $1,700 per event. The horse is also memorialized with a statue and hoofprints in concrete on campus.
“Over at USC they’re nonpolitical about their horse,” DeBernardi 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.”