A community of University of Georgia (UGA) Grady College stakeholders have united to demand a change in the namesake of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication from Henry W. Grady, a white supremacist, to Charlayne Hunter-Gault, an award-winning journalist, alumna of the school and one of the first Black students to integrate UGA in 1961.
Amid the national protest movement surrounding the murders of unarmed Black citizens, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, the push to rename the school comes after a June 2, 2020, column by Grady College alumnus Sam Jones in The Red & Black, UGA’s independent student newspaper; other efforts in Atlanta and Houston; and the scholarship of media historian Kathy Roberts Forde—all of which shed light on Grady’s history and moved concerned stakeholders to action.
"I am surprised by this effort and deeply honored,” Hunter-Gault said. “Given the social justice issues America is currently grappling with, and to support all who are looking to correct the wrongs of the past, especially those relating to racism, I believe now is a good time to focus on the names of institutions that do not reflect the reality of the American dream, to wit: that all people are created equal, regardless of race, creed, color, gender or sexual orientation. So I support the renaming of the Grady College, whether it ends up with my name or not. So glad my fellow Bulldogs are ‘woke’ to this historic moment."
Grady, a UGA alumnus, well-known orator and the managing editor of the Atlanta Constitution, is credited with the economic revival of the post-Reconstruction “New South” following the Civil War. But his vision for prosperity was predicated on the convict leasing system, a form of slavery by another name, that hinged on the preservation of white supremacy. “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... [This declaration] shall run forever with the blood that feeds Anglo-Saxon hearts,” he said in 1887.
That Black students must walk past Grady’s name daily on their way to class is offensive. Black students shouldn’t be asked to take pride in the diplomas they’ve earned, much less support their college and university, when an emblem of white supremacy is the namesake of the very institution that awarded them the diploma.
“After engaging with Forde’s scholarship and reading Jones’s column, I began searching everywhere for a petition to sign. I reached out to fellow alumna Kathryn Purcell Schiliro and asked, ‘Where’s the petition?’” said Amber Roessner, a three-time UGA and two-time College of Journalism and Mass Communication graduate who is currently an associate professor of media history at the University of Tennessee. “When we found out that there wasn’t one, we were compelled to take action to rename Grady and to do our part in dismantling the legacy of white supremacy on the University of Georgia’s campus.”
Moreover, UGA prides itself on being “the birthplace of public higher education in America.” If that’s the case, as a publicly funded institution, the taxpayers of this state should not be forced to tolerate the glorification of such vile, race-based hatred and ignorance.
This community of Grady College stakeholders, Georgia taxpayers and those like-minded individuals who stand in solidarity with us denounces the namesake of UGA’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication and all of the vile ideas that he stood for and practices that he instituted. We demand a name change.
“I’ve always been a proud Grady grad,” said Mandi Woodruff Santos, who earned a journalism degree from UGA in 2009 and is now executive editor of LendingTree. “Now I see the name and I cringe and hate that I didn’t know the story of its namesake and what he stood for sooner. But when you know better, you do better.
“This isn’t just about removing the name of a man who wanted ‘the domination of the negro race resisted … because the white race is the superior race.’ It’s about ushering in a new era of inclusion at the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication.”
Hunter-Gault was the first Black woman to integrate UGA in 1961, and she was the first Black person to graduate from Grady College in 1963. Her career has involved work at some of America’s bedrock journalistic institutions: The New Yorker; The New York Times, where she became the Harlem bureau chief and convinced editors to stop referring to people who are Black as “Negroes;” PBS, where she was a national correspondent for the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report;” NPR; and CNN. She is the recipient of two National News and Documentary Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards. She continues to serve UGA through speaking engagements and served on the Peabody Award Board of Jurors from 2009 to 2015. The college has named a distinguished writer in residence in Hunter-Gault’s honor.
In an effort to garner support for the removal of Grady’s name from the college and the addition of Hunter-Gault’s, Grady College alumni and stakeholders have started a petition on Change.org that is more than 7,500 voices strong. To sign the petition, please visit www.change.org/RenameGrady.
At the time of this writing, University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley, University System of Georgia Board of Regents Chair Sachin Shailendra and UGA President Jere Morehead have not responded to requests to begin the name change process or to comment.
Rename Grady Task Force members Amber Roessner, Kathyrn Purcell Schiliro, Kimberly Davis, and Mandi Woodruff Santos collaborated to write this article.