Georgia’s University System Will Not Rename Buildings With Ties to Slavery
Georgia’s public university system will not rename 75 buildings and colleges, whose names an advisory committee recommended changing because they included supporters of slavery and racial segregation.
Members of the Board of Regents for Georgia’s public university system, voting unanimously on Monday, said in a statement that while the regents had recognized the “importance of the issue and the variety of views held on it,” they decided against renaming the buildings.
“The purpose of history is to instruct,” the board said in its statement. “History can teach us important lessons — lessons that, if understood and applied, make Georgia and its people stronger.”
The board added, “Going forward, the Board is committed to naming actions that reflect the strength and energy of Georgia’s diversity.”
The decision from the state’s university system follows similar debates at institutions across the country about statues, monuments and names etched onto buildings and structures, including those of Confederate leaders and colonial figures who endorsed slavery, such as Christopher Columbus.
The debate intensified last year after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer and the nationwide racial justice protests that followed. Some protesters toppled statues and monuments. On college campuses, administrators responded by setting up task forces and advisory groups to examine complaints.
Some of those reviews concluded this year. At the University of Alabama, a board said two buildings would receive new names, and an advisory group at the University of South Carolina recommended renaming 10 buildings.
In June, the board of trustees at Washington and Lee University decided not to change its name after a monthslong review over whether to remove its reference to the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. And this month, the board of directors at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, decided to remove the name of its founder, Serranus Hastings, who led a Gold Rush-era slaughter of Yuki men, women and children in California.
Dr. Hilary N. Green, a professor of history at the University of Alabama, said in an interview on Tuesday that universities and colleges in Georgia would now be “out of step with the nation” because the board had rejected the findings from a committee that had “completed a very thorough report and identified the most problematic and extremely racist figures.”
“I feel bad for the students who have to go into those buildings because this was a systemic rejection from the board,” Dr. Green said.
The members of the board could not be reached for comment or did not respond to requests for an interview.
The advisory committee, which was convened in June 2020 and consisted of several academics, reviewed the names of 838 buildings and 40 colleges. In their findings, published in a 181-page report, they explained why they recommended changing 75 names, saying they did not reflect the university system’s “published standards.”
One of the names was Henry W. Grady, an Atlanta journalist who became editor of the local paper and whose name is enshrined in the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
Under his leadership in the late 1800s, the paper consistently published stories that were racist, according to the report. He instigated lynchings, promoted the disenfranchisement of Black voters and used the paper’s pages to spread white supremacy, Dr. Kathy Roberts Forde, a professor of journalism history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said.
In June 2020, a group devoted to replacing Grady’s name on the school formed. The group, called Rename Grady, campaigned to replace him with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a journalist who integrated the university in 1961.
“I can say that as a Black woman, I think it sends a message that we’re not welcomed in that college, and we’re not welcomed on campuses that continue to highlight and honor enslavers and white supremacists and segregationists,” Kimberly Davis, an alumna of the University of Georgia and an organizer of Rename Grady, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Henry W. Grady III — whose great-great-grandfather is Henry W. Grady, the editor — said in an interview on Tuesday that after the board’s decision, he was “glad to see a resolution.”
He declined to state his position on the debate of whether to rename the University of Georgia school bearing his family name. But he said that when other institutions renamed themselves from Henry W. Grady to something else, “it was disappointing.”
On Tuesday, he said he had “trusted the process” put forth by the board.
“I’m glad it’s been decided,” Mr. Grady said. “I’m glad that the process has run its course.”
Mr. Grady said that he would not describe his great-great-grandfather as a racist man, adding that it was not fair to judge him by today’s standards. “It’s a different time,” he said.
Of the buildings that the committee recommended to be renamed, 31 were at the University of Georgia. The university referred questions about renaming to the board, and a spokesman for the board did not respond to questions seeking comment.
The committee also recommended changing names associated with John Brown Gordon, a Confederate leader, and DeNean Stafford Jr., a local businessman who “worked to deny the humanity of African Americans,” the committee wrote. The board voted against renaming Gordon State College in Barnesville and the Stafford School of Business at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
Dr. Robert A. Pratt, a professor of civil rights history at the University of Georgia, said in an interview on Tuesday that he was not surprised by the board’s vote.
“I think the only thing that surprised me was that there was an advisory committee at all, because I really never expected that there would be any substantive change,” he said.