Alabama capitol removes Confederate names from 2 schools

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Two high schools in Alabama’s capital, a center of the civil rights movement, will no longer bear the names of Confederate leaders.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted Thursday on new names for Jefferson Davis High School and Robert E. Lee High School, news outlets reported.

Leigh will become Dr Percy Julian High School. Davis would become a JAG high school, representing three figures of the civil rights movement: Judge Frank Johnson, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and the Reverend Robert Gretz.

The schools opened in the 1950s and 1960s as all or mostly white but now serve students who are more than 85 percent African American.

“Our job is to make our spaces comfortable for our children. Most importantly, we’re going to make decisions based on the needs of our kids, not necessarily sentiment around whatever nostalgia there is,” said Superintendent Melvin Brown, as reported by WSFA-TV.

Julian was a chemist and teacher born in Montgomery. Johnson was a federal judge whose rulings helped end segregation and enforce voting rights. Abernathy was a pastor and leader in the civil rights movement. Graetz was the only white pastor to openly support the Montgomery bus boycott and was the target of scorn and bombings for it.

The new names of the schools were given two years after the education officials vowed to strip the namesakes of the Confederacy. The debate over the names of the schools began amid protests against racial inequality following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Someone toppled a statue of Lee in front of his namesake school during the demonstrations.

Like many other schools with a Confederate name, Lee — named after the Confederate army general — opened as an all-white school in 1955, while the South was actively fighting integration. Davis, named for the Confederate president, opened in 1968. But white flight following integration orders and changing demographics meant the schools became heavily African American.

The Montgomery City Council last year voted to rename Jeff Davis Avenue after attorney Fred D. Gray. Gray grew up on the streets during the Jim Crow era and went on to represent clients including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

After the street name was changed, the Alabama attorney general’s office told city officials to pay up $25,000 fine or face a lawsuit for violating a state law protecting Confederate monuments and other longstanding monuments. The city paid the fine to remove the Confederate reference.

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