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Respect the arc of history with new name: Henry Grady-Yolanda King High School

Maria Saporta
Grady High School (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

By Maria Saporta

This is the second of a two-part series about Henry Grady and efforts to change the name of Grady High School. The first column appeared last week.

Back when I was a student at Grady High School, I remember my Georgia history teacher pointing to a sentence in our textbook that said Henry Grady was a great Southerner and orator.

Grady High School (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“That’s why our newspaper is called the Southerner and our yearbook is called the Orator,” she told us.

It was during my time as a reporter and news editor on the staff of the Southerner that I discovered my love for journalism – a love that has lasted five decades.

In many ways, Henry Grady has been a presence that has followed me ever since. When I worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years, I would pass by the Henry Grady statue every day on my way to work. In the lobby of the newspaper, in large italic letters, there was a quote from one of Grady’s speeches: “We have raised a brave and beautiful city.”

During that time and since, I learned quite a bit about Grady, who leveraged his role as editor of the Atlanta Constitution to push his pro-Atlanta agenda. Grady was largely responsible for Atlanta becoming the dominant city in Georgia following the Civil War.

In the 1880s, Grady also was key in launching the Cotton States Expositions in Atlanta – a platform to promote “the New South.” The goal was for the South to gain economic independence from the North by developing its own manufacturing facilities.

One of my favorite passages by Grady was in the last major speech he gave about two weeks before his death in 1889 at the young age of 39 when he described attending a funeral in Pickens County where “the South didn’t furnish a thing on earth for that funeral but the corpse and the hole in the ground.”

The Henry Grady statue on Marietta Street (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Thanks to the vision of Henry Grady, Atlanta built a major public hospital, which opened a couple of years after his death and was named in his honor. The “New South” initiative also led to the creation of Georgia Tech in 1885 to help develop the South’s industrial base.

Over the years, I realized how influential Grady was in creating “the Atlanta Way” – the coalescing of leaders to push the city forward – leading to Atlanta becoming the Southeast’s capital city.

But I also realized that Grady’s views on race were just plain wrong. Current Grady students and recent alums are pushing to change the name of Grady High School because they describe Grady as a racist and white supremacist.

The Atlanta Board of Education currently is holding public sessions on the Henry W. Grady Renaming Committee, which is chaired by school board member Leslie Grant.

After listening to a couple of those sessions, it has become painfully apparent of a great divide among those who want to change the name of the high school and those who want the Grady name to stay. In many ways, it is a generational divide – one that may be hard to bridge.

Booker T. Washington gives the “Atlanta compromise” speech during the 1895 Cotton States Exposition (Special: Wikipedia)

In a recent conversation with former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, he said he was against changing the name. “I think it’s a distraction to deal with the symptoms rather than substance,” Young said.

It also strikes me we’re judging a man who lived more than 140 years ago through today’s filter of racial awareness.

And I’m concerned about the slippery slope; where does this end?

For example, at the Sept. 18 opening of the 1895 Cotton States Exposition, Booker T. Washington gave his famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech – the first one given by an African American to a racially-mixed audience in the South.

Part of the compromise was Washington’s acceptance of social segregation: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

So, given Washington’s sentiments, should we change the name of Booker T. Washington High School? Obviously, I’m not advocating for changing the name of Booker T. Washington High School.

Instead, I believe we can leverage the lives of these leaders to learn our history and see how far we’ve come.

In the case of Grady High School, I believe there’s a compromise where everyone can win.

For history’s sake, let’s keep Grady in the name. But let’s add the name of someone who symbolizes our recent journey towards racial integration and equality.

Yolanda King with Maria Saporta at King’s 50th birthday party in 2005 (Photo by Sue Ross)

Yolanda Denise King would be my pick. Yolanda King, the eldest child of Martin Luther King Jr., graduated from Grady in 1972 – attending during the volatile time when the school was becoming a truly integrated institution.

Yolanda King, who died in 2007 when she was only 51, actually integrated Spring Street Elementary School in the fall of 1966 before going to Grady. (In the interest of full disclosure, Yolanda King and I were close friends at Spring Street and Grady).

Yolanda was attending Grady when her father was assassinated in 1968. Instead of becoming bitter, Yolanda worked hard to create strong multiracial relationships and serving as class president for two years. Yolanda went on to have a successful acting career in the 1990s appearing in 10 separate projects.

Yolanda King continued to hold Grady close to her heart throughout her life – attending reunions and even spearheading an effort in the mid 1990s to bring together Grady alums to mentor current high school students.

The combined name of Henry Grady – Yolanda King would represent the true spirit of Atlanta and bridge the arc of our unique history. Over time, the name the high school likely would shortened to Grady-King High School – a name that would make any Atlantan proud.

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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17 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Julia Cothran Bernath August 4, 2020 9:36 am

    Maria, as someone just a year ahead of you who also attended both Spring Street and Grady, I think your idea has a lot of merit! Thank you!Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    HEIDI S COUCH August 4, 2020 9:47 am

    I side with Ambassador Andrew Young. Look at the all many positives that benefitted Atlanta due to the work of Henry Grady. He was so young when he died. Had he lived longer, he might very well have had a change of heart as regards race. Consider that he and the city allowed Booker T. Washington to address the citizens of Atlanta at the Cotton States Exposition. To change the name of Henry Grady High School ignores the school’s illustrious and proud history and diminishes the contributions of Henry Grady.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Elisabeth Omilami August 4, 2020 9:58 am

    Maria as someone who worked with Yolanda King (Selma Lord Selma) and a daughter of the Civil Rights movement II agree with adding Yolanda Kings name to the Grady High School renaming. She was a sweet wonderful visionary and her dedication to Grady High was exemplary.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Willene White-Smith August 4, 2020 10:32 am

    Good Morning Maria and thanks for your thought provoking article on the origin of the name of our historic Grady High School back in the early ’70’s. You are right on point with your suggestion of re-naming our school from Henry Grady to include Yolanda D. King’s name, for our talented and supportive Grady High Alumna sister. Even back then, like her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Yolanda (Yoki) was always trying to help bridge the gap between the races. Just as Atlanta changed the name of our World Famous Airport from Hartsfield Airport to “Hartsfield-Jackson,” the APS system can change our high school’s name to Grady-King High School. Just as I am proud to stand & advocate for the “Restoration of Fountain Hall” on the historic 139 year old campus of Morris Brown’s College, I would also stand and advocate for the renaming of our High School to Grady-King. After all, the Grady High theatre is already named in her honor.
    Be Safe & Wear Your Mask!!!
    Sistah SmifffReport

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  5. Avatar
    John R. Naugle August 4, 2020 10:55 am

    Hi Maria. I continue to celebrate in ©Atlanta: City of Peace™ with you and all who are courageous and loving enough to sojourn on that beautiful path together. I also join with others who admire your perspective, plus who respect your professional integrity and social-action legacy.
    Regarding your goal of honoring Yolanda King, I like it. Maria, I never got to ‘adventure’ with Yolanda King, but I did get to meet her once and we do share the same November 17th birthday along with her Aunt Naomi Ruth Barber King. I never knew Yolanda King. Yolanda King was not a friend of mine. Maria, you’re a Yolanda King — in spirit! And knowing you like I do, that’s one thing I can attest to.Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Joanna Adams August 4, 2020 10:57 am

    Splendid idea, Maria, and I so appreciate your wise perspective this morning. We already have Hartsfield Jackson, so there good precedent here. I taught English at Grady from 1966-1968. Wonderful school then and now.Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Gus Kaufman August 4, 2020 11:19 am

    I definitely feel a renaming is in order. I will say I feel you are white-washing Henry Grady by not publishing any of his more blatantly oppressive comments and by not analyzing the white supremacy of his more moderate ones.Report

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Brooke Dickerson August 4, 2020 4:07 pm

    Well thought out and excellent suggestion. There is so much history in Atlanta, good and bad, that can teach future generations as we continue to strive to be a better city. I am resistant to adopt standards of acceptability so rigid that no one could meet them. There can be understanding of context without approval of positions held in earlier times; rejection of racist views does not require a complete rejection of the beneficial contributions Henry Grady made to our city. Thank you Maria.Report

    Reply
  9. Avatar
    Charlie Berke August 4, 2020 5:53 pm

    Maria, wonderful suggestion. I would even agree with Saporta High School. A true fighter for The heart of Atlanta.
    My partner in 10th grade English.Report

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  10. Avatar
    Greg Hodges August 4, 2020 9:01 pm

    “Slippery Slope” indeed ……it has been a virtual landslide as far as the ‘renaming’ mania that has been practiced by Atlanta politicians and officials in recent years is concerned. Hope your ‘compromise’ will prevail, Maria, but there’s a strong possibility that Mr. Grady’s name will disappear from the school, the hospital, and…oh dear….what is to become of that statue ?
    But that won’t be the end of it. Next in the crosshairs may be the name of a prominent middle school in Va-Hi. ……named in honor of a man who served the Confederate States of America as a Lt. in Company K , First Tennessee Calvary. Wonder how many home owners in toney Inman Park realize their neighborhood was named to honor a man who headed off to war right behind the Stars n’ Bars ?Report

    Reply
  11. Avatar
    Beth McMillan August 4, 2020 9:29 pm

    I was educated in APS from kindergarten thru 12th grade. I attended the illustrious Booker T. Washington High School. My 2 daughters are products of APS as well, both also being graduates of Grady High School. While I understand the need and want to eradicate our past from our present and future with regards to Henry Grady’s past, I am able to recognize what he has done for this City of Atlanta. I also am able to recognize his contributions to the world of journalism. In terms of renaming or adding a name to Henry.Grady High school I would like to propose a name and a person who contributed to the world of journalism in the black community. Why not bestow the school with the name C.A. Scott, the long time owner and editor of Atlanta’s longest daily paper covering the black community. This would maintain the focus and mission of Grady High School as a communication focused high school. I think that his decades of publishing a paper by black people for black people makes him deserving of such an honor.Report

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  12. Avatar
    Atlanta Resident August 7, 2020 5:09 pm

    Quoting Emanuel Macron (President of France): “You will not tear down our statues or change the names of our streets because that
    is our history.”

    Currently it seems many people are trying to make the perfect the enemy of the good & demanding today’s values are retro active &
    therefore few to none can be validated by this absurd standard.

    Chopping down the trees in front of Grady H.S. was insulting enough. Leave the name alone…enough of these hyphenated names, they only last until the divorce.Report

    Reply
  13. Avatar
    Native Atlantan August 7, 2020 11:53 pm

    After World War II and after Stalin died, Germany and the USSR underwent de-Nazification and de-Stalinization. This never happened in this region of the world and needs to be done. Grady isn’t the only name that needs to be shed. Segregationists, Klansmen, Confederates and all these such characters should not have their names anywhere other than a history book. If you call yourself a city in the “New South” (hahahaha yeah right) then you can’t honor people (or imagery) whose philosophies resemble the “Old South”. The hospital, the curve, the school; get rid of his name. Virtually all the comments to this point want to give Grady some sort of pass but he was in his right mind at the time. He knew what racism was. He does not deserve a break. No one does. Apparently some people here think since that was going on at that time, it’s okay now.Report

    Reply
  14. Avatar
    Sandra (Hargrove) Carnet August 8, 2020 9:16 am

    Maria, I have known and followed you for years, throughout my career at Georgia State University and I have always appreciated your reasoned perspective on so many issues. We have both Spring Street School and Grady High school in common. That puts us in a very special
    group as those two schools were and have been ahead of their time in terms of curriculum and inclusion.
    I salute your wise thinking on this name suggestion as I believe the melding of these two Atlantans symbolizes the true history of Atlanta and an opportunity to build for the future. I hope your idea will go farther than these pages and will receive the attention it deserves from the school board. Thank you!Report

    Reply
  15. Avatar
    Shayla August 11, 2020 10:27 pm

    I am extremely disappointed that your coverage of this matter does not include people who support the full renaming of Grady High School. Where were their voices in this story? Where in your story did you include some of Henry Grady’s racist quotes?

    Example: “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.” Henry W. Grady

    Your suggestion of renaming Grady High School to Grady-King High School does nothing to erase the pain people of color endured in this city as a result of Grady’s racist, segregationist views. This ‘white supremacist’ does not deserve to be honored, he deserves to be dishonored.Report

    Reply
  16. Avatar
    janis lavine August 22, 2020 4:32 pm

    As a former student of Spring Street and Grady – a classmate of your sister’s and you as a classmate of my brother’s, I hear you! As a former teacher in Salem, MA I shared my social justice history and activism with my art students and they heard me. Your suggestion seems to bridge the gap of historical social change during our time 50- 48 years ago and before, but current graduates must be part of this narrative, too. Current Social Justice activism speaks loudly to the fact that the flames of injustice are still rampant and unresolved. The same white supremacy that bombed the Temple while I was in kindergarten at Spring Street has reared its ugly head today. Let’s listen to their thoughts and suggestions, too!Report

    Reply
  17. Avatar
    Oscar Leonard August 25, 2020 5:55 pm

    From August 93 thru November 2007, I served on the Zoning Review Board. I found her review of zoning issues very instructive. I prefer keeping the name as it is. If a compromise is necessary, how about Grady Scott King?Report

    Reply

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