Dec 3, 2021 - News

Buildings honoring Confederates, segregationists won't get renamed

A photo in the autumn of LeConte Hall at the University of Georgia
UGA's LeConte Hall is named after Joseph LeConte. The professor owned more than 200 enslaved people and advocated for white supremacy, according to researchers. Photo courtesy of University of Georgia Marketing and Communications

Buildings named after Confederate leaders, segregationists and proponents of slavery at Georgia’s public university system will not be changed, despite recommendations presented by an advisory group convened by the Board of Regents.

Why it matters: Elected officials, sports teams and institutions across the country are being forced to confront a long history of glorifying and celebrating men, women and organizations that upheld white supremacy, advocated for slavery and opposed desegregation.

Catch up quick: In June 2020, as protests across the country called for an end to systemic racism and police violence, Board of Regents Chair Sachin Shailendra and then Chancellor Steve Wrigley tasked an advisory group to recommend whether any of the University System of Georgia’s more than 3,800 buildings and colleges should be renamed.

More than a year later, the group chaired by Albany State University President Marion Ross Fedrick recommended the regents rename 75 buildings and colleges. The group’s 181-page report includes recommendations to rename buildings named after:

  • Joseph Mackey Brown, a former governor who wrote antisemitic editorials urging mob violence against Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who was later lynched.
  • Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, a slavery advocate, Confederate general and one of the authors of the Confederate Constitution.
  • Richard B. Russell, a former U.S. senator, Georgia governor and co-author of the “Southern Manifesto” opposing school desegregation.

The group also recommended 21 buildings and colleges should keep their names but that efforts should be made to provide context.

  • Those include buildings named after Herman Talmadge (a former governor of Georgia), Varina “Winnie” Davis (the daughter of Confederate President Jefferson Davis) and Thomas Gamble (a newspaperman, Savannah mayor and college founder).

What they’re saying: “History can teach us important lessons, lessons that if understood and applied make Georgia and its people stronger,” the board said in a statement rejecting the advisory group's recommendations that was adopted by the regents the Monday before the Thanksgiving holiday.

  • The regents said they “acknowledge, understand and respect there are many viewpoints on this matter. Going forward, the board is committed to naming actions that reflect the strength and energy of Georgia’s diversity.”

The regents had no additional comment, Lance Wallace, a spokesperson for the USG, tells Axios.

Yes, but: It’s possible to remember history in its proper context. When the Atlanta History Center moved the Cyclorama from Grant Park to its Buckhead museum, it updated the exhibit to dispel the Lost Cause myth.

  • The center also has a toolkit to help communities launch conversations about the future of public monuments in their area.

“They should go back and rename them,” Dan Moore Sr., the president and founder of the APEX Museum and a member of a commission created by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that recommended renaming city streets, tells Axios. “That sends a false message, especially to Black children. When you name someone on a plaque, you say we honor this person.”

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