Atlanta committee recommends new name for Brown Middle School

An Atlanta school board committee recommended Joseph Emerson Brown Middle School be renamed Herman J. Russell West End Academy.

The committee unanimously agreed Wednesday to a compromise recommendation after initially being split between naming the school after a person and naming it after a location.

The full school board is expected to vote on the proposed new name at a Dec. 7 meeting.

Combining the Russell name with the West End location was a compromise suggested by school board member Aretta Baldon, who heads the committee.

Herman J. Russell West End Academy would honor the Atlanta real estate and construction entrepreneur who died in 2014 while also recognizing the surrounding neighborhood.

Four of the seven committee members favored naming the school after Russell.

Three advocated at first for a name that incorporated the West End. The area has “a very rich history” that speaks to equality, said committee member and Atlanta City Council member Cleta Winslow.

Several expressed concerns about naming the school after a person, since public perception of a person’s legacy can change over the years.

The school’s current name honors Joseph Brown, a secessionist Georgia governor who opposed slavery’s abolition. One of his descendants, Robert Davis, told the committee it’s time to rename the school.

“I know that many people, especially African Americans, rightfully feel that these names just do not fit our times and where we are and where we need to be as a city and as a community,” Davis said.

Some alumni opposed the change, which district officials also discussed four years ago.

Earlier this year, school board Chairman Jason Esteves reignited the debate when he appointed committees to review the names of three Atlanta schools that he said honored white supremacists.

Renaming discussions still are underway regarding Henry W. Grady High School, Grady Stadium and Forrest Hill Academy, an alternative school in southwest Atlanta.

The Grady school and football stadium are named for a managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution who died in 1889. He promoted a vision of the “New South” and spoke about the supremacy of the white race.

The academy’s name references Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest.