MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Two high schools in Alabama’s capital, a hub of the civil rights movement, will no longer bear the names of Confederate leaders.
The Montgomery County Board of Education on Thursday voted for new names for Jefferson Davis High School and Robert E Lee High School, news outlets reported.
Lee will become Dr. Percy Julian High School. Davis will become JAG High School, representing three figures of the civil rights movement: Judge Frank Johnson, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Robert Graetz.
The schools opened in the 1950s and 1960s as all or mostly white but now serve student populations that are more than 85% African American.
“Our job is to make our spaces comfortable for our kids. Bottom line is we’re going to make decisions based on what our kids needs may be, not necessarily on sentiment around whatever nostalgia may exist,” Superintendent Melvin Brown said, as reported by WSFA-TV.
Julian was a chemist and teacher who was 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 who openly supported the Montgomery bus boycott and became the target of scorn and bombings for doing so.
The new school names were given two years after education officials vowed to strip the Confederate namesakes. A debate over the school names began amid protests over racial inequality following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Someone ripped down a statue of Lee outside his namesake school during the demonstrations.
Like many other Confederate-named schools, Lee – named for the Confederate Army general – opened as an all-white school in 1955 as the South was actively fighting integration. Davis, named for the Confederate president, opened in 1968. But white flight after integration orders and shifting demographics meant the schools became heavily African American.
The Montgomery City Council last year voted to rename Jeff Davis Avenue for attorney Fred D. Gray. Gray grew up on the street during the Jim Crow era and went on to represent clients including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
After the street name change, the Alabama attorney general’s office told city officials to pay a $25,000 fine or face a lawsuit for violating a state law protecting Confederate monuments and other longstanding memorials. The city paid the fine in order to remove the Confederate reference.
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