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Montgomery school board votes to remove confederate names from schools

Two confederate figures will be replaced by a renowned Black scientist and several Civil Rights Era figures.

Montgomery, Alabama skyline. STOCK

The Montgomery County School Board voted Thursday to officially remove the names of confederates from two city high schools and rename the schools after civil rights leaders, a federal judge and a renowned Black chemist. 

The school formerly known as Jefferson Davis High will be renamed Dr. Percy Julian High. Former Robert E. Lee High will now be called JAG High, an acronym combining the first initial of the last names of Judge Frank Johnson, Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Robert Graetz. 

“I’m glad we were able to put it on the table and move it forward,” said Montgomery Superintendent Melvin Brown, who made the formal recommendation for the name changes. “We can now get this change going in a positive direction. The bottom line is we’re going to make decisions based on what our kids need and not based around whatever nostalgia might exist.”

The renaming of the two high schools has been, unfortunately, a controversial issue, and the renaming of the schools did not receive unanimous approval from the county board. Two members voted against it, with one of those members proclaiming that choosing the civil rights leaders and a Black scientist was just as divisive as naming the schools for a confederate general and the former confederate president. 

That, of course, is ludicrous. Lee was a slave owner who beat Black and tortured other humans for his own benefit. Davis was the leader of a traitorous revolt against this country – a revolt centered entirely on the issue of slave labor. In addition, neither man was from Montgomery, or even Alabama, and only Davis spent a miniscule amount of time in the state. 

In the meantime, Dr. Percy Julian was born in Montgomery and became one of the first Black scientists to earn a doctorate degree. He held more than 130 chemical patents and his work – pioneering the synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants – still influences the lives of every American on a daily basis. 

Judge Frank Johnson served as a federal judge in Montgomery and issued some of the most famous and consequential rulings of the Civil Rights Era. He is widely hailed as a champion of equality and justice, and some of his decisions still serve as precedent today. 

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Ralph Abernathy, a Baptist minister, was one of the most consequential figures of the Civil Rights Movement, working hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Abernathy helped create the Montgomery Improvement Association, which launched the 1955 Bus Boycott – the starting point to the Civil Rights Movement. He also founded the Southern Christian Leadership Council and led hundreds of protests and movements in the name of equality. 

And Rev. Robert Graetz was one of the few white ministers to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, took over a small, predominantly Black church in Montgomery just prior to the Bus Boycott and helped facilitate the transportation and other needs of the participants. Their home was bombed multiple times as a result. 

“The community wanted the names (of the schools) to be reflective of the people who live in Montgomery now,” said board member Arica Watkins-Smith.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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