Henry Woodfin Grady was a white supremacist. This school, however, still gives him the honor of representing an educational environment. Grady was a prominent journalist who believed in a “new south.” Most of his ideas revolved around new economic policies. Unfortunately, he also strongly believed that the same “new south” depended on the social supremacy of whites over blacks, which he expressed in countless speeches. Last week the school board of Houston Independent School District in Texas voted to change the name of their former Henry W. Grady High School. Following their lead is a choice we must make. As a public school that prides itself on inclusiveness and diversity, we must not fail to take action. To truly live up to our motto, “individually we are different, together we are Grady,” we should have a name representative of our diverse student body.
The Grady administration has identified issues with socioeconomic and racial diversity previously; the system of Small Learning Communities exacerbated these issues and was dismantled at the beginning of this school year. With such huge changes being implemented in the name of equality, altering the name of Grady to represent the students, faculty and staff, could continue that trend. A name holds power and symbolizes a great deal — as does removing one.
Following the Charleston mass shooting in South Carolina in 2015, multiple state governments came together to remove all confederate flags from states’ grounds. It was a symbolic move that demonstrated the importance of removing tokens that represent support for slavery and white supremacy. Although many have argued that things like names and flags are simply expressions of the First Amendment, limits are necessary when dealing with public property.
Henry W. Grady once stated “the supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards, because the white race is the superior race.”
As a community of individuals from various backgrounds, races and ethnicities, we should not have a name that fails to represent that heterogeneity. More than that, we should not have a name that is counter to the goals of any productive and welcoming school — one that fails to celebrate many cultures and embrace the uniqueness of Atlanta.
Many important leaders from Atlanta and around the nation have preached equality and morality in their lifetimes. They have made history trailblazing on behalf of equal rights for all Americans and across the world. Those people deserve recognition, not the white supremacist we are currently dubbed. Changing the school’s name to a figure who represents who we are, just like removing confederate flags, would help push us away from negative symbolism.
We at the Southerner pride ourselves on the journalism available at our school, and we do believe Henry W. Grady represents that. As the founder of the Atlanta Constitution, now the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he deeply affected and influenced the region. That being said, as did many other historical figures. Ida B. Wells, for example, would make a perfect namesake for a school like ours. Wells, a daughter of slaves, was a journalist who fought for justice throughout her life. She, like Grady, owned a newspaper. Her paper, the Free Speech, however, spoke out against unfair conditions for African Americans in schools, lynchings of African Americans and other issues of injustice in the South. Along with this work, Wells worked as a teacher for a segregated school district in Memphis, TN. The Southerner could not imagine a more representative figure to name our institution of learning.
That being said, other historical, Atlanta-based figures emulate the characteristics we should strive to recreate. John Lewis, Andrew Young and Jimmy Carter all come to mind.
While impacts the change would cause are not easily discernible, a different name would have a higher moral standard attached to it. Following a change in leadership at both Grady and APS, changing the school’s name should be the next action following the dissolution of SLCs. Grady High School is a progressive institution of learning, and it is time to match our name with our goals.