Georgia’s public university system will not rename 75 buildings and colleges, which an advisory committee recommended changing names because they included supporters of slavery and racial segregation.
Members of the Council of Regents of the Georgian public university system, voting unanimously on Monday, said in a statement that although the regents recognized “the importance of the issue and the diversity of views on it”, they decided not to rename the buildings.
“The purpose of the story is to educate,” the board said in its declaration. “History can teach us important lessons – lessons which, if understood and applied, make Georgia and its people stronger.”
The board added, “Going forward, the board is committed to appointing actions that reflect the strength and energy of Georgia’s diversity. “
The state’s university system’s decision follows similar debates in institutions across the country over statues, monuments, and names engraved on buildings and structures, including those of Confederate leaders and colonial figures who supported slavery, like 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 knocked over statues and monuments. On college campuses, administrators have responded by creating task forces and advisory groups to review complaints.
Some of these reviews ended this year. At the University of Alabama, a council said two buildings would receive new names, and a University of South Carolina advisory group recommended rename 10 buildings.
In June, the University of Washington and Lee’s board of trustees decided not to change its name after a months-long review of whether to remove its reference to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. And this month, the Board of Trustees of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, has decided to drop the name of its founder, Serranus Hastings, who led a Gold Rush-era massacre of Yuki men, women and children in California.
Dr Hilary N. Green, professor of history at the University of Alabama, said in an interview Tuesday that universities and colleges in Georgia are now “out of step with the nation” because the board of trustees had rejected the findings of a committee. who had “completed a very comprehensive report and identified the most problematic and extremely racist figures”.
“I feel bad for the students who have to enter these buildings because it was a systemic rejection on the part of the board,” Dr Green said.
Council members could not be reached for comment or did not respond to interview requests.
The advisory committee, which met in June 2020 and was made up of several academics, reviewed the names of 838 buildings and 40 colleges. In their conclusions, published in a 181 pages report, they explained why they recommended changing 75 names, saying they did not reflect the “published standards” of the university system.
One of the names was Henry W. Grady, an Atlanta reporter who became editor of the local newspaper and whose name is enrolled in the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
Under his leadership in the late 1800s, the newspaper regularly published racist stories, according to the report. He instigated lynchings, encouraged disenfranchisement of black voters and used the newspaper’s pages to spread white supremacy, said Dr Kathy Roberts Forde, professor of journalism history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In June 2020, a group dedicated to replacing Grady’s name on the school was formed. The group, called Rename Grady, campaigned to replace him with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a journalist who entered the university in 1961.
“I can say that as a black woman, I think it sends the message that we are not welcome in this college, and we are not welcome on the campuses that continue to highlight and honor slavers, white supremacists and segregationists, “Kimberly Davis, a University of Georgia alumnus and Rename Grady organizer, said in an interview Tuesday.
Henry W. Grady III – whose great-great-grandfather is editor-in-chief Henry W. Grady – said in an interview Tuesday that after the board’s decision, he was “happy to see A resolution “.
He declined to express his position on the debate over whether to rename the University of Georgia school to his last name. But he said that when other institutions renamed themselves Henry W. Grady into something else, “it was disappointing.”
On Tuesday, he said he had “trusted the process” proposed by the board.
“I’m glad this has been decided,” said Mr. Grady. “I’m glad the process has taken its course. “
Mr Grady said 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 the committee recommended renaming, 31 were at the University of Georgia. The university returned questions about the name change to the board, and a board spokesperson did not respond to questions for comment.
The committee also recommended changing the 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, professor of civil rights history at the University of Georgia, said in an interview Tuesday that he was not surprised by the council’s vote.
“I think the only thing that surprised me was that there was an advisory committee, because I really did not expect that there would be a substantive change,” he said. he declares.