Calling for a new name that doesn’t “honor a segregationist,” students at Atlanta’s Henry W. Grady High School have submitted a petition calling for the school to be renamed.
The school was named for the former managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution, but the student petition alleges Grady’s racist ideals pushed white supremacy in the South.
About 180 students submitted the petition to the school board during its Feb. 3 meeting, according to an open records request filed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Students cited work by a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor, who found Grady worked with political leaders and businessmen to push a “white supremacist political economy” in Georgia.
The school's newspaper, the Southerner, also published a story in January about students' efforts to change the name. The effort coincides with upcoming renovations at the school, located near Piedmont Park.
Grady (1850-1889), was an editor and part-owner of The Atlanta Constitution, and was known for his work to promote his vision of a “New South,” a vision that depended on maintaining white supremacy.
In the petition, students suggested journalist Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), who documented lynchings in the South, and civil rights attorney Donald Lee Hollowell (1917-2004), who fought to end segregation in Atlanta public schools and at the University of Georgia, as potential names for the school.
“With the upcoming renovation, we believe now is the time for our school to realize a more inclusive vision, one that can only be achieved when all students can proudly wear school apparel and shout school chants without being forced to honor a segregationist,” read the petition.
The board is still reviewing the petition, but Atlanta School Board Chairman Jason Esteves said they are committed to creating an "inclusive community," pointing to a proposed calendar change that would no longer recognize Columbus Day as a school holiday. The district would instead recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day, which falls on the same day as Columbus Day, Oct. 12.
“In that spirit comes additional considerations about the racist past of certain individuals, including Henry Grady,” Esteves said. “It’s something that we have to consider as a board, and we will.”
Atlanta school board policy on naming facilities calls for the board chairman to appoint a special committee to consider nominations and make a recommendation to the board. Esteves said that process could take one to two months.
This is the latest attempt by students to change the school's name. In 2016, students wrote an editorial requesting a name change. A spokeswoman for Atlanta Public Schools responded to the editorial in the pages of the AJC, saying they're "proud of The Grady High School Southerner newspaper's long and storied history of encouraging community dialogue with thoughtful articles. As such, we respect its position on this issue."
In recent years, there have been efforts to rename Atlanta streets who bear the name of Confederate figures. In 2019, Confederate Avenue was renamed United Avenue.
The former Confederate Avenue is just one of at least 25 streets in Atlanta that are believed to be named for military figures and leaders who supported the Southern cause during the Civil War.
A blue-ribbon panel convened by former Mayor Kasim Reed recommended in 2017 that those streets be immediately renamed.
The students' demand comes as the school is undergoing renovations. In December, the Atlanta school board awarded a $34.9 million construction management contract to Parrish Construction Group to complete the project. The total project will cost $39.5 million, including design, construction, and other costs.
The construction project includes renovating and adding classrooms, security upgrades, gym renovations and renovations to the auditorium and performing arts areas, media center, and cafeteria. The work is expected to be completed by July 2021.
— Staff writers Rosalind Bentley, Vanessa McCray and Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.