It’s time for a change. As a recent graduate of the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication, I believe there needs to be serious conversations around the man whose name is attached to the school, Henry W. Grady.
This isn’t a new thought, but it became very apparent for me again on Friday afternoon. Midway through a peaceful protest march from Georgia's State Capitol to Centennial Olympic Park, the crowd came to a standstill. At first, we didn’t know why. But when we saw that a statue had now become a focal point for the protesters (and later their spray paint), the pause started to make sense.
In early December, the editorial board of Georgia State University’s excellent student newspaper The Signal wrote an open letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The letter, which was also signed by the Young Democrats of Georgia, multiple members of the GSU Student Government Association and the Black Student Alliance at GSU, called for the removal of a statue at the intersection of Marietta and Forsyth streets in downtown Atlanta depicting and celebrating the likeness of Grady, a man who repeatedly used his influence to prop up white supremacy.
The Signal lays out his history directly and plainly, and I encourage you to read it in full. It includes examples of his leadership at The Atlanta Consitution that resulted in headlines such as “Lynching Too Good For the Black Miscreant Who Assaulted Mrs. Bush: He Will Be Lynched.” It also includes examples of some of his speeches:
“'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,' Grady said in his famous 1888 'New South' speech. 'This is the declaration of no new truth. It has abided forever in the marrow of our bones and shall run forever with the blood that feeds Anglo-Saxon hearts.'
And in Grady’s final speech on 'the colored problem' before his death, he reiterated that the 'negro vote can never control in the South, and it will be well if partisans at the North would understand this.'"
The College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA touts itself as one of the best in the country. You’re pitched on it when you walk in the doors and see the walls covered with famous alumni and words proclaiming a dedication to truth, justice and lending a voice to the voiceless. It’s noble. And I genuinely believe that the people at the College of Journalism and Mass Communication work toward that ideal every day. I believe that it is one of the best teachers of its subject matter in the world. I believe that it is a welcoming and kind environment that works to prepare its students to improve the lives of others. And I believe that it can be better.
If the school is going to position itself as a place that fights for the greater good and for the empowerment of unempowered voices, then the branding of the school with the name of a white supremacist is unacceptable.
To be simpler: I don’t want a degree I’m proud of earning to be associated with a dead racist. And neither does anyone else who values what is taught at the school.
I’d like to call for a name change. I’d like for Dean Charles Davis, President Jere Morehead and others to consider that Henry Grady, an outspoken white supremacist, doesn’t deserve to be and shouldn’t be the first name associated with our school.
If anyone is worried about the logistics of removing and replacing Grady’s name, I have good news. We don’t have to look far for something better. Better would be celebrating the first black woman to attend UGA and the first to graduate from the journalism school: 1963 grad and award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault.
I hope that alumni, faculty, staff and students will join me in having an open discussion about this and will work towards making a simple and obvious fix that is long overdue. It’s a small one. But it’s one that will go hand in hand with upholding the values taught at the school and the values we believe in.