School board postpones renaming of Grady High School to allow student vote

The Atlanta Board of Education voted at its Nov. 2 meeting to postpone a recommendation to rename Midtown’s Henry W. Grady High School to Ida B. Wells High School to allow the student body a vote.

Board member Leslie Grant, who chaired the Grady renaming committee, made the recommendation to postpone after listening to community outcry about the process.

During the month of November, every student at Grady will be given the opportunity to anonymously vote for the three names forwarded by the committee, including Wells, Midtown High School, and Piedmont High School.

Grant said the committee agreed that whichever name the students choose in ranked voting will be forwarded to the school board as a final recommendation.

The renaming of Grady has caused division in the community as evidenced by fighting on community message boards and dueling petitions. The petition to reject Ida B. Wells garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.

The decision to postpone and let students vote was met with a mixture of opinions by parents and community members commenting on the virtual meeting. Many were upset that Grady alumni would not be included in the vote. Board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown suggested that Howard Middle School students also be given a vote as a feeder school in the Grady cluster.

The controversy over the renaming reaching a tipping point after a survey sent to parents, students, faculty, and alumni showed a decisive preference for Midtown High School. Ida. B. Wells came in second and Piedmont third. There were two other names on the survey – Freedom High School and Thomas E. Adger, in honor of the school’s first Black principal.

However, Grant said the survey was merely used to inform the committee’s decision, which leaned toward equity rather than popular vote.

The board is expected to take up the Grady name again at its Dec. 7 meeting.

The move to rename Grady and the other schools began in March as communities across the nation re-examined the legacy of racism and white supremacy in the names of its buildings, streets, parks, and monuments.

Grady was named after  journalist, orator, and white supremacist Henry W. Grady. Ida B. Wells was a pioneering Black journalist who investigated lynchings in the South after the Civil War.

Chairman Jason Esteves said the board would likely consider new names for Brown Middle School and  Forrest Hill Academy – both named after notorious Civil War-era white supremacists – in December or January. Esteves also empaneled a new naming committee which must decide what to rename Grady’s football stadium.

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