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Ida B. Wells is top pick as new name for Atlanta’s Grady High

By Vanessa McCray, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Inspired by her legacy and the chance for “poetic justice,” an Atlanta school board committee recommended renaming Henry W. Grady High School to honor another journalist: Ida B. Wells.

A committee on Tuesday proposed Ida B. Wells as the new name for the Midtown school. The Mississippi-born Black journalist and civil rights activist, who died in 1931, exposed lynching and racism in her work.

The recommendation makes a pointed statement about Grady, a white, southern journalist whose views don’t “reflect the values that we want to carry forward,” said board member Leslie Grant.

She and three other members of the seven-member committee supported naming the school after Wells.

“I do think that there is remarkable poetic justice to the Ida B. Wells’ name, to the meaning,” said Atlanta City Councilman and committee member Amir Farokhi. “I think it would be a powerful statement by the group to embrace Ida B. Wells’ name.”

The Atlanta school board is expected to vote on the recommendation at its Nov. 2 meeting. The full board must approve any change.

Three committee members favored a location-based name — either Midtown or Piedmont — for the high school.

Carrie MacBrien, an assistant principal at Grady who served on the committee, said she had heard passionate arguments on behalf of the Wells’ name. But, she said, she couldn’t “discount the sheer volume of support” expressed in favor of the Midtown name.

Fellow committee member Jay Hammond, a 2020 Grady graduate, pushed hard for renaming the school after Wells. He said it would be a fitting tribute and stand as a direct counterpoint to Grady’s legacy.

Hammond also said it would honor the long tradition of student journalism at the high school.

School board chairman Jason Esteves formed the committee earlier this year after Grady students submitted a petition requesting a name change. Henry W. Grady, who died in 1889, was a managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution.

The students’ petition contends that as a journalist and speaker, he spread a “staunchly racist ideology” that “helped cement white supremacy in the southern United States.” His legacy, the petition said, “should be studied but not celebrated.”

Hundreds of alumni signed an opposing petition, calling for Atlanta Public Schools to keep the Grady name, citing the high school’s academic reputation and long history.

The naming committee announced in August that its memberssupported renaming the school. Last week, they narrowed down dozens of suggestions to five potential names: Midtown, Piedmont, Ida B. Wells, Thomas E. Adger and Freedom.

An outdoor football stadium located next to the high school and across the street from Piedmont Park also bears the Grady name. A separate committee will be formed to recommend a new name for that facility.

Discussions are underway about renaming two other Atlanta schools. Last week, a committee determined that Joseph Emerson Brown Middle School, should be renamed. It bears the name of the secessionist Georgia governor who opposed the abolition of slavery. Committee members are still working to come up with a recommendation on an alternative name.

The district also is reviewing the name of Forrest Hill Academy. The alternative school located in southwest Atlanta bears the name ofNathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader.