Esteves said it’s the right time to make sure that “none of our schools are named after people who do not embody the values of APS today.”
“It is hard to educate future leaders to be inclusive and to value an inclusive society when their school buildings are named after people who did not appreciate that,” he said.
Proposals to rename schools have sparked debate for years and have reignited in recent months. A group of about 200 Grady High School students petitioned the board in February to change the Midtown school's name, a request opposed by some alumni.
The students’ petition states that Grady, the managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution who died in 1889, made significant contributions to journalism, but “his staunchly racist ideology helped cement white supremacy in the southern United States, and thus his legacy is one that should be studied but not celebrated.”
Nadia McGlynn, who graduated from Grady High this year and is headed to Vanderbilt University, helped gather petition signatures. She said she learned about Grady during her Advanced Placement U.S. history class and found his views on convict labor troubling.
The high school is being renovated, and she said it’s the perfect time to change the name. Doing so would be “a big, strong show of support” for Black students, she said.
“A lot of people think Henry Grady shouldn’t be the person whose name is representing our student body … because so much of what we do at Grady High School is forward thinking,” she said. “Changing the name doesn’t change the school at all.”
Cary King, an attorney and 1959 Grady High graduate, said he and other alumni have collected more than 600 signatures of people who oppose renaming the school.
He said the school’s name and strong academic reputation are well known by college admissions counselors. As for Henry Grady, he said the man had a complicated legacy that isn’t all good or all bad.
“The times were different, the dress codes were different, everything about the culture was different,” King said.
King said he’s sensitive to the concerns of students and recent graduates. He suggested a compromise, such as removing Grady’s first name and middle initial and naming the school simply “Grady High School.” Or, APS could pick another person to honor and hyphenate the school’s name to still include Grady.
The Grady naming committee will meet virtually at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It can be viewed on the school board's Facebook page. Committee members include Amir Farokhi, who represents Midtown on the Atlanta City Council and who declined to comment.
There's also opposition to the proposal to rename Brown Middle School, previously a high school. Randy Long, who graduated from the high school in the 1960s and administers several alumni Facebook pages, pointed to a failed effort several years ago to change the school's name.
He said he thinks many graduates and residents of the West End where the school is located are still against the idea. Brown was instrumental in starting the Atlanta school system, Long said.
A meeting date for the Brown naming committee has not yet been set. Cleta Winslow, the Atlanta city councilwoman who is to serve on that committee and who represents the district where the school is located, could not be reached for comment.