Ida B. Wells High School? Students From Atlanta’s Grady High Petition Board to Change Name of School Because of Racist Past

A group of Henry W. Grady High School students are fighting to change the name of the Atlanta school from that of a segregationist to an abolitionist ahead of its multimillion-dollar renovation project.  

As the school ramps up for a $34.9 million construction project to renovate and revamp its facilities and classrooms, hundreds of students who believe it’s prime time to change the school name signed a petition and presented it to the Atlanta School Board during its Feb. 3 meeting, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported.

In it, they name-dropped two activists whose monikers they believe would be a better fit for naming the school in place of Grady: journalist Ida B. Wells and civil rights attorney Donald Lee Hollowell.  

Students have petitioned to change the name of Atlanta’s Grady High School. (Photo: Atlanta Public Schools)

According to the petition, “Our school was named after Henry W. Grady, a Reconstruction-era journalist and speaker who was owner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While Grady’s contributions to journalism were significant, his staunchly racist ideology helped cement white supremacy in the southern United States. His legacy should be studied, not celebrated.”  

Grady was part-owner and editor of The Atlanta Constitution, which would become The Atlanta Journal-Constitution decades after his tenure.

Grady’s ties to racist ideologies and oppressive practices in the South have prompted the students to fight for change. There are about 200 signatures from the 1,441 Grady students, according to the school newspaper, the Southerner Online.

“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,” the petition read. 

According to the petition, Grady (1850-1889) was a white supremacist who touted a “New South” dogma based in part on oppressing Blacks and keeping them at bay from opportunities. 

Students offered up two apt names in those of Wells (1862-1931) and Hollowell (1917-2004). Wells, was an investigative journalist in the late 1800s who captivated audiences with her raw stories about lynchings in Memphis, Tennessee. Wells was also a feminist who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A film about her life is slated for August 2020.  

Hollowell became a champion of civil rights in the South after his lawsuit led to the integration of Atlanta’s public schools and the desegregation of the University of Georgia in 1961. He was also a crusader for justice and accomplished attorney who freed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from a Georgia prison in 1960. 

 Atlanta School Board Chairman Jason Esteves said the board is amenable to making the necessary changes to foster inclusivity. 

“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.” 

The process to change the name could take several months, Esteves told the AJC. That process includes appointing a special committee and vetting name considerations before recommendations are made to the board.

Grady High junior Joseph Scott who is Black, agrees that school’s name should be changed. 

“We, as a human race, have not come near to getting over racism,” Scott told the Southerner Online. “I feel like this is just another barrier we need to overcome, and if we have the ability to overcome it, we should, no matter what it comes with because a bunch of test scores is not bigger than racism.” 

Lee Pope, an AP United States history teacher at the school, believes leaving Grady’s name on the school could inspire teachable moments that foster a conversation about history.

“As a history teacher, if we take down monuments, then we can’t look at them and say ‘that person was bad,’” Pope said to the student newspaper. “There’s another side to this. It’s a monument to how far we have come, that we aren’t like that anymore. I get worried about whitewashing history. Some of the names we need to remember.” 

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