Students walk into Aderhold Hall on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. 

The University of Georgia College of Education has proposed to name the College of Education after Mary Frances Early, UGA’s first African American graduate.

If approved, this would be the first college named after an African American alumni.

This proposal coincides with a slew of racial controversy at the university, including the recent backlash over UGA administration’s handling of the remains found at Baldwin Hall and a racist video of TKE fraternity members from March.

The proposal to change the name is part of the Commit to Georgia capital campaign, which ends June 30, 2020. Donations can be made in honor of Early throughout next year.

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents must approve this name change, and Dean of the College of Education Denise Spangler said she hopes the proposal will reach the Board of Regents in late winter or early spring of 2019-2020.

Mixed reactions

Spangler said he thinks the name change proposal would provide the highest honor to Early’s legacy.

“It just came about organically,” Spangler said. “This is really about honoring Ms. Early and her past and current contributions to the University of Georgia.”

Some black UGA students find the name change proposal encouraging.

Jalen Burton, sophomore early childhood education major, said he first learned about Early by attending one of her lectures. Burton recounted the lecture to his family and church in his hometown of Hartwell. Because of her story, he said he was surprised that all UGA had in her honor at the time was a “little lecture.”

“It just makes me feel a little more empowered to know that this building is named after an amazing lady who is doing the same thing that I’m trying to do, which is make a change in the world,” Burton said.

However, some other black students feel this isn’t enough.

“It’s one thing to be diverse, and it’s another thing to be equitable.”

Kaela Yamini, president of UGA NAACP chapter

Kaela Yamini, the NAACP president at UGA, considers this proposal a milestone and a way to reclaim Early’s “trailblazing” legacy. However, Yamini hopes the name change isn’t the extent of UGA’s actions regarding diversity and inclusiveness.

“It’s one thing to name a building after somebody, but what other actions will be taken beyond that to make more progress?” Yamini said. “It’s one thing to be diverse, and it’s another thing to be equitable.”

Mary Frances Early’s legacy

Early graduated from UGA with her master’s degree in music education in 1962, laying the foundation for future African American students at UGA.

The Holmes-Hunter Academic Building, named for Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, is the only UGA building named after African Americans.

Akela Reason, an associate history professor, said she considers this proposal a step in the right direction. Reason said naming a college after Early contrasts other buildings and colleges named after white men. For a student body that is majority women, Reason said the majority of the buildings are not reflective of the community by gender or race.

For Juanita Johnson-Bailey, a professor in the College of Education, this renaming bears a personal connection. As a black alumna of UGA, Johnson-Bailey said meeting Early strengthened her love for UGA, and naming the building would be “a way of celebrating the diversity that is the University of Georgia.”

“If she could look and find the goodness here, who am I not to do the same?” Johnson-Bailey said.

There are many UGA buildings named after segregationists and slave-owners. Russell Hall was named after Richard Brevard Russell Jr., a vocal objector to the civil rights movement. And LeConte Hall was named for Joseph LeConte, a UGA professor from a slave-holding family.

Chana Kai Lee, an associate history professor, said she considers this a long-awaited victory.

“There needs to be many more buildings named after individuals who could make us all proud at UGA, and what better person than Mary Frances Early?” Lee said.

Megan Mittelhammer contributed to this article.

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