UGA's celebration of Black History Month tarnished by buildings and colleges named after white supremacists

When people with ties to white supremacy continue to be honored by the university in this way, progress is stifled and Black, Indigenous and people of color on campus are forced to deal with racism at their own school every day.

Last October, I sat nervously awaiting the email that would decide the trajectory of the next two years of my life. My phone buzzed. I picked it up, squeezing my eyes shut and whispering to myself one last time, “You’ll get in.”

The words “Congratulations on your acceptance to Grady College!” flashed across my screen. I was exhilarated; the fact that I had been accepted to one of the top journalism schools in the country filled me with pride.

At the time, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was now a student in a college named after a white supremacist. It did not occur to me that if Henry W. Grady, the white supremacist after whom Grady College is named, was still around, I might not have been accepted due to my Asian heritage.

It has been eight long months since June 17, 2020, when the University System of Georgia created an advisory group to review the names of buildings and colleges of USG schools. According to its website, the committee has only met twice, and not a single building at the University of Georgia has been renamed.

Now that Black History Month is over, it is important to reflect on the steps taken by UGA to celebrate and uplift the Black community at this school.

The Multicultural Services and Programs department created an extensive schedule of events including film screenings, lectures, a dinner and awards celebration and even a formal ball. The university also made posts about Black History Month on their Instagram account.

However, these efforts are tainted by the presence of colleges and buildings on campus named after figures with ties to white supremacy. Adding to the cruel irony of this situation, many of this month’s lectures and presentations were held in LeConte Hall, a building named after a UGA professor who owned slaves and supported the Southern secession.

One name in particular is under scrutiny: Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. There is a petition to rename the college after Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first Black woman to enroll at UGA and one of the first Black women to graduate from the university.

Hunter-Gault is an extremely successful and influential reporter, author and civil rights activist and she has helped pave the way for many Black females in the journalism field.

At this point in time, some may say the responsibility for renaming buildings and colleges like LeConte Hall and Grady now rests with the University System of Georgia, but UGA still has a responsibility to its students, its employees and the Athens community to fight for these changes.

From a student perspective, the UGA administration is not pushing hard enough to rename these colleges and buildings. Now that the powerful wave of activism has died down, the university seems to have pushed these conversations and initiatives to the back burner.

Caroline Caden, a third-year theater major, conducted research for their Public History and Technology class last semester and found the first connection to Andrew A. Lipscomb owning slaves. Lipscomb Hall, a residential building, is named after this figure, who was Chancellor of UGA from 1861-1878.

Caden believes that renaming the colleges and buildings on campus is low on the university’s list of priorities.

“I think it's extremely low,” Caden said. “The sad thing about UGA is that they only acknowledge things when they’re pushed into a corner to do it.”

When people with ties to white supremacy continue to be honored by the university, progress is stifled and Black, Indigenous and people of color on campus are forced to deal with racism at their own school every day.

BIPOC students, employees, alumni and faculty deserve more than empty promises. As an educational institution, UGA should be putting all of their efforts into acknowledging the trauma inflicted by past mistakes and creating an environment that is equitable, inclusive and conducive to true growth.

Lasting progress cannot be made until we own up to and actively rectify the mistakes of our past.

Hopefully, as we push onward into the future, these buildings and colleges named after racist figures will cease to be a reality, and instead be remembered only as a sad chapter in our history books.