Petitions want Cobb to change names of Wheeler, Walton high schools

Two petitions are calling on the Cobb County School District to change the name of two of its high schools.

The Change.org petitions want the district to rename Joseph Wheeler and George Walton high schools in East Cobb, both named after men with ties to slavery or the Confederacy.

Wheeler High School is named after Joseph Wheeler, who served as an officer in the Confederate Army. After the South was defeated in the Civil War, Wheeler served as a Congressman from Alabama and in the U.S. Army in the Spanish-American War and the war in the Philippines, the National Park Service states.

The school bearing Wheeler’s name “celebrates, memorializes, and honors a Confederate general,” according to Wildcats for Change, a group made up of students, parents, teachers and alumni of the high school.

“The current display of Confederate and segregationist names and themes on government buildings only serves to fuel legitimacy among 21st century white supremacists,” the group’s petition states. “The values of the school’s namesake do not reflect the values of its students, faculty, or community.”

READGrady High School students call for school name change

George Walton signed the Declaration of Independence and served as the second governor of the Peach State, according to the National Governors Association. The petition for renaming that school said Walton came from a slave-owning family "and spent his political career championing white supremacy in Georgia by stripping Native Americans time and time again of their land," said creator Joseph Fisher.

“For a school well known on the national stage, it is sickening that they choose to carry themselves using a man who represents one thing: continuing white supremacy in the American South,” Fisher wrote.

As of Thursday afternoon, Wheeler’s petition had received more than 2,500 signatures. More than 1,600 signed the Walton petition. Cobb County School District spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the system is “committed to actively listening” to all of its students.

“If it is important to our students, it is important to us,” she said. “We are aware of both petitions and are listening to students who have strong feelings about this topic.”

Students at another metro school, Grady High School in Atlanta, also created a petition to rename the school. Grady is named after 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 for consideration.

OPINION | Henry Grady's name doesn't belong on my high school

According to March enrollment data from the Georgia Department of Education, Walton High School had 2,616 students and Wheeler had 2,159 students. Both schools are located in east Cobb, a majority-white area of the county.

Broken down by race, the majority of Walton students are white at 1,700, They are followed by 155 who identify as black, 527 as Asian, 157 as Hispanic, 72 as two or more races, two as American Indian and three as Pacific Islander.

Wheeler’s demographics are a bit more diverse. Black students make up the largest demographic at 811. That’s followed by 568 white students, 425 Hispanic students, 290 Asian students, two Pacific Islander students, six American Indian students and 57 students who identify as two or more races.

Cobb County School District spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the system is “committed to actively listening” to all of its students.

“If it is important to our students, it is important to us,” she said. “We are aware of both petitions and are listening to students who have strong feelings about this topic.”

Cobb school board member Charisse Davis, whose post includes both schools, said the petitions are “part of a larger conversation going on in this country right now about race and our history of racial oppression.”

“Knowing what I know about our board majority and district leadership, I do not expect any interest in revisiting school names,” she said. “However, that may not always be the case, so I appreciate people finding ways to make their voice heard on the issue.”

To its knowledge, the Cobb school district has not changed a school’s name or been asked to consider that move due to concerns about racism, slavery or the Confederacy, Kiel said.


Like Cobb County News Now on Facebook Follow on Twitter