After two postponements, the Atlanta Board of Education voted Dec. 14 to change the name of Henry W. Grady High School to Midtown High School. Alumni of Grady, which counts many Jewish students among its graduates, shared their opinions about the name change with the AJT.
The conundrum began when the Black Lives Matter movement spurred calls for toppling statues of previously accepted heroes considered racists as a retrospective in today’s social justice climate. There was even talk of removing the intricate granite carvings off Stone Mountain.
On the one hand, Henry Grady (1850-1889) was lauded as a noted orator, the publisher of the Atlanta Constitution and the visionary responsible for post Civil War healing by peacefully promoting blending of the Union and Confederacy. Some of his writings did however state his beliefs in the “supremacy of the white race.” Thus, the process began to change the Grady High School name.
A variety of alums speak out:
Harriet Schwartz Berger, 1969: My choice would have been to stick with Grady. I think it has a cache and colleges and others recognized the excellence of the school’s depth and reputation.
Dr. Harvey Zion, 1965, a Grady football player who went on to play college football for Florida State University, experienced Grady’s integration in 1962.
Zion has a unique spin on the name change. “My initial passion on the name change was to Roger Derthick, who was principal from ‘56 to ’72, providing this smooth transition era.
“I was opposed to ‘Ida B. Wells’ because she had no tie to Atlanta. I was surprised that only 178 (out of close to 1,500 students) cared enough to sign a petition to change the Grady name. Thus, the initial spark to the APS [Atlanta Public Schools] committee to change names was not strong,” Zion said. “I’m OK with the change to Midtown.”
Bob Fierman, 1967, was voted best looking in the class senior superlatives. “In my era, Grady enjoyed a large Jewish population. The hallways and most classes were practically empty on the Jewish holidays, especially in the accelerated math and science classes. My attitude about the school name is, that for us, the aging-seniors, the name, “Grady High School” represents some of the happiest memories of our youth, but the school is no longer ours. It belongs to another generation who should feel comfortable with what their school name represents to them.”
Jerry Katz (Big Jerr) 1959, was an all-around star athlete and a member of a Jewish boys group, the Dudes. There were also similar Greek and Christian clubs who intermingled activities.
“I was for the Grady name to remain true to its roots. Henry Grady contributed a lot to our city. Times may have changed, but the good he did for Atlanta remains.”
Dorothy Carrillo, 1963, was features editor of the school newspaper The Southerner. “Looking back, I realize what a sheltered life we led: Sunday and Saturday mornings at synagogue, Sunday afternoons at the AJCC, and Grady all week. Plus, our neighborhoods were largely Jewish, so our lives were fundamentally Jewish. When half of Grady was absent for the Jewish holidays, the halls would be empty and not much learning would occur.
They can call the school whatever they want; it will always be Grady to me. Like the Grady anthem says, ‘Grady Forever.’” By the way, Grady was also known as Hebrew High, she said.
Mollie Pett, 2008, a medical device product manager noted, “There were a few Jewish students, but it was blended. I didn’t feel that there was a particularly coherent Jewish community at Grady.
I’m certainly in favor of the name change. While ‘Grady’ may be a historic name in Atlanta, it doesn’t fit the nature and modern ideals of the school as a diverse and inclusive community. I will never cease to appreciate the open-minded environment that the school fostered and how this has shaped my views as an adult. If I had a vote, I would support the name ‘Midtown High School,’ to represent its geographic location as an inner-city school that can showcase the urban and progressive style that the school developed. The times call for a change in our community with a name for the local school that accurately reflects the nondiscriminatory and diversified population in its neighborhood.”
Kenny Silverboard, 1975 “The late ’60s and early ’70s are when Grady transitioned away from having a good number of Jewish students due to a lot of factors like gentrification, older folks staying in their homes after the family was raised. Yolanda King [daughter of Martin Luther King] was president of Grady’s sophomore and junior class ’71 and VP of the senior class ’72.
Regarding the name change, I don’t have a problem with it. My memories are of the school. Just like the Progressive [Jewish] country club of a different era.” I think, if asked, I will always say ‘I graduated from Grady, now known as …,’ whatever they change it to. You make memories from a place, no matter the name. Some of my fondest recollections are from back then. If changing the name helps the end goal, I am all for it. “
Morris Podber, 1969
“I still keep in touch with tons of Jewish people as a tight-knit group from Grady. When I went to my 50th reunion, I realized what a great bond we had. Bottom line: I prefer to stick with the Grady name.”
Tai Cohen, 2007, lettered in soccer (team captain) and football.
“I am proud of Grady and it’s a big part of my life, but if the name is associated with someone who represented social injustice, then by all means, do the name change. I’ll support any new name for a more progressive idealism.”
Dylan Johnson is a current Grady senior set to graduate next year. He is active in Moot Court and didn’t officially vote on the name change. “I think the change is needed based on an outdated icon. I support “Midtown” because it is in a gray area, inclusive and won’t cause upset.”
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Grady High School
- Atlanta Board of Education
- Midtown High School
- Black lives matter
- Stone Mountain
- Henry Grady
- Civil War
- Harriet Schwartz Berger
- Dr. Harvey Zion
- Roger Derthick
- Ida B Wells
- Bob Fierman
- Jerry Katz
- Dorothy Carrillo
- Mollie Pett
- Kenny Silverboard
- Yolanda King
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Morris Podber
- Tai Cohen
- Dylan Johnson
- Moot Court