The Board of Regents of Georgia’s public university system voted unanimously not to rename any of the 75 buildings named after controversial figures in history.
“The intent of the advisory group was to better understand the names that mark our buildings and colleges, recognizing there would likely be a number of individuals who engaged in behaviors or held beliefs that do not reflect or represent our values today,” the Board of Regents wrote in a statement announcing the decision, noting that the University System of Georgia includes some 3,800 named buildings and colleges. “Understanding the history of names fulfills a knowledge mission that has guided USG for the past 90 years.”
“The purpose of history is to instruct. History can teach us important lessons, lessons that if understood and applied make Georgia and its people stronger.”
“The Board, therefore, will not pursue name changes on USG buildings and colleges as recommended by the advisory group’s report. We 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 Board of Regents established an advisory committee in June 2020 to study the names of buildings and schools with controversial namesakes, and to report their findings to the board.
The state of Georgia passed a law in 2019 prohibiting state agencies from changing the names of buildings that honor a “historical entity,” according to Fox News. Many of the board’s members were appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, who supported the law.
Among the names recommended for change were several prominent figures, including former Confederate General John Brown Gordon, as well as former Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge, former U.S. Senator Richard Russell, and former Congressman Carl Vinson, who were prominent defenders of segregation in the 20th century, according to Fox 5 Atlanta. Russell’s namesake was given to a U.S. Senate office building, while Vinson has an aircraft carrier bearing his namesake.
Activist organizations concerned with changing the names slammed the decision.
“The decision by Georgia’s Board of Regents to keep the names of known racists, segregationists and white supremacists of the state’s public colleges and universities is not surprising. It demonstrates to us the board’s support of racism and the upholding of white supremacy,” Rename Grady, a group concerned with the renaming of buildings dedicated to newspaper magnate Henry W. Grady, said in a statement.
The Board of Regents stressed its recognition of “the importance of the issue and the variety of views held on it.”
The board’s decision comes as New York City has decided to remove statues of two former U.S. presidents over allegations of racism. The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson because of the Founding Father and third president’s connection to slavery. A statue of President Theodore Roosevelt was also relocated from in front of the American Museum of Natural History after the Public Design Commission, in conjunction with the Board of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, voted to remove it, saying the statue was “problematic” and lacked “consent and context.”