Georgia Regents Cite Lessons From History as They Decide Not to Rename Any Buildings

Georgia's public university systems announced Monday that will not rename any buildings or colleges that were recommended for changes due to name association with slavery, segregation, or other social issues.

An internal committee created more than a year ago to study the naming issues recommended the university system should rename 75 buildings and colleges. However, the system's regents voted not to make any name changes.

"History can teach us important lessons, lessons that if understood and applied make Georgia and its people stronger," the regents said in a statement unanimously adopted by the board at a meeting.

"Going forward, the board is committed to naming actions that reflect the strength and energy of Georgia's diversity," the statement said.

The regents went on to add that while the board would not pursue any name changes involving the 75 recommendations from the advisory committee, it acknowledged that there were many viewpoints on the matter.

The final decision Monday was rebuked by many, saying that the system's decision to keep the names stamped their approval on social injustices and those who commit them.

"The decision by Georgia's Board of Regents to keep the names of known racists, segregationists and white supremacists of the state's public colleges and universities is not surprising. It demonstrates to us the board's support of racism and the upholding of white supremacy," a group called Rename Grady said in a statement.

The state of Georgia passed a law in 2019 prohibiting state and local agencies from renaming any buildings that are named after a "historical entity", or of removing any historical monuments.

Some local Georgia governments have gone against this, removing monuments and renaming buildings that were associated with names of Confederates, slaveholders or white supremacists.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Robert E. Lee Statue
Georgia’s public university systems announced Monday that they will not be renaming any buildings or colleges that were recommended for changes due to name association with slavery, segrgation or other social issues. Workers remove the statue of Robert E. Lee at the Marcus-David Peters circle prior to its removal on September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. Eze Amos/Getty Images

Several regents released statements after the vote, but none directly explained why they supported making no changes. Many of the regents were appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who supported the 2019 law.

Most prominently, the committee had recommended the system choose a new name for Gordon State College in Barnesville, named after John Brown Gordon.

A Confederate general in the Civil War, Gordon later served as governor and U.S. senator after Georgia rejoined the Union, becoming one of the most powerful politicians in a state Democratic Party devoted to white rule. Some historians have concluded he was the titular head of the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.

The committee also had recommended renaming three academic units. Most prominently, the committee said the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia needed a name change, citing newspaper editor Henry W. Grady's support of white supremacy even as he preached a "New South" creed of industrialization.

Also suggested for a change was the Langdale College of Business Administration at Valdosta State University. The committee said the fortune of Harley Langdale Jr. was based on camps where African American workers made turpentine from pine resin. They were largely held in place by debt, legal threats and violence.

The committee also recommended the renaming of the Stafford School of Business at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, saying Stafford was a leader in the fight to maintain segregation in Georgia in the 1950s.

Of the buildings suggested for changes, 31 are at UGA, in part because of its size and age. Statewide, the panel recommended stripping the names of former Gov. Eugene Talmadge, former U.S. Sen Richard Russell and former U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson, along with other former governors and U.S. senators. The report notes Talmadge, Vinson and Russell were all outspoken defenders of desegregation in the 20th century. A U.S. Senate office building is named for Russell and an aircraft carrier is named for Vinson.

At least one building or college was included at 13 of the system's 26 institutions, including a call to rename the Huntington Administration Building at the historically Black Fort Valley State University, citing railroad magnate Collis Huntington's mistreatment of Chinese laborers.

The panel also recommended retaining the names of one college and 20 buildings while adding context about the actions of their namesakes. The panel said it reviewed 878 buildings and colleges named for individuals or groups of individuals, companies or landmarks.

Atlanta's school board has renamed schools that formerly honored Grady, Confederate Gov. Joseph E. Brown and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Confederate monuments were removed in DeKalb and Henry counties, while Athens-Clarke County relocated a monument, saying it needed to build a wider crosswalk in downtown Athens. The law allows relocations for construction if the new site is of equal prominence.