In the past, arguments that Henry Grady’s racist stands disqualified his name from gracing major Atlanta institutions went nowhere. But this week’s national protests show many Americans are fed up with the vestiges of racism, in their police departments, their laws and their lives.

Opinion: Has moment come to strip Grady name from Atlanta high school and UGA college?

column today in the University of Georgia student newspaper urges UGA to rid its journalism school of the Henry Grady name.  Grady’s name is also on an Atlanta high school, the city’s public hospital and a South Georgia county. 

A native son of Athens, Ga., Grady was an acclaimed orator and journalist whose views were steeped in white supremacy. Past arguments that Grady’s diatribes disqualify his name from gracing major Atlanta institutions went nowhere. 

But this week’s national protests show many Americans are fed up with the vestiges of racism, in their police departments, their laws and their lives.  They are demanding foundational change that will require institutions rebuild from the floorboards. Painting over a tainted name could be an easy first step.

Born in 1850, Grady graduated UGA.  His father served as a major in the Confederate army, dying in 1864 from injuries sustained in Petersburg, Virginia.

Henry Grady became managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution. His life was short; he died at 39 of pneumonia. He was a renowned speech giver and eloquent proponent of what he dubbed “the New South.”

Among his off-quoted lines:

--The New South is enamored of her new work. Her soul is stirred with the breath of a new life.

--I want to say to Gen. Sherman, who is considered an able man in our hearts, though some people think he is a kind of careless man about fire, that from the ashes he left us in 1864 we have raised a brave and beautiful city.

But he also said:

Simple, credulous, impulsive -- easily led and too often easily bought, is he a safer, more intelligent citizen now than then? ... Those who would put the Negro race in supremacy would work against infallible decree, for the white race can never submit to its domination, because the white race is the superior race.

In a guest column in the independent UGA student newspaper the Red & BlackSam Jones, who graduated this year with a master's degree in journalism, writes:  

If the school is going to position itself as a place that fights for the greater good and for the empowerment of unempowered voices, then the branding of the school with the name of a white supremacist is unacceptable. To be simpler: I don’t want a degree I’m proud of earning to be associated with a dead racist. And neither does anyone else who values what is taught at the school.

Sam Jones

This is not the first call to scrub the Grady moniker from an educational facade. Grady High School students submitted a petition in February asking their storied Midtown high school be renamed for journalist Ida B. Wells, who documented lynchings in the South, and civil rights attorney Donald Lee Hollowell, who challenged segregation in Atlanta and at UGA. Grady students put forth the same request in 2016 to no avail. 

And, in December, the editorial board of the Signal, Georgia State University’s student newspaper, urged Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to relocate the Henry Grady statue from downtown to the Atlanta History Center, saying:

Etched into his plaque are three celebratory words: “Journalist, Orator, Patriot.” Let us be clear in recognizing that Grady, as a journalist, promoted racism. Grady, as an orator, promoted racism. And Grady was certainly no patriot — he was simply a racist.

By keeping Grady on a literal and figurative pedestal, we continue to celebrate a legacy that is incompatible with Atlanta’s progressive character. Is this truly what “the city too busy to hate” celebrates?

Earlier pushes for a change met with resistance from some alums of Grady High and UGA who said the names of their schools were well known. The grads didn’t claim any attachment to Henry Grady, but felt an affinity with Grady High and the Grady school.

In his Red & Black column, Jones counters that UGA has a perfect replacement, writing: “We don’t have to look far for something better. Better would be celebrating the first black woman to attend UGA and the first to graduate from the journalism school: 1963 grad and award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault.”

A UGA journalism graduate says the journalism college should consider abandoning Henry Grady’s name for that of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who, along with Hamilton Holmes, in 1961 became the first African American students to enroll at UGA. 
Photo: AJC File

Schools and colleges are not museums or keepers of the flame. They are incubators and igniters. Names of slaveholders, Confederate generals and racist demagogues belong in history books, not over front doors of public buildings. 

Yes, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication carries clout. So would the Hunter-Gault College of Journalism.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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