MPS board approves name changes for 2 schools

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 7:13 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 11:03 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Montgomery County Board of Education has approved name changes for two high schools.

The board voted 5-2 Thursday evening in favor of Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Melvin Brown’s recommendation of renaming:

  • Robert E. Lee High School to Dr. Percy Julian High School
  • Jeff Davis High School to JAG High School, which is an acronym for Judge Frank Johnson, Ralph Abernathy and Robert Graetz.

“I’m glad we were able to put it on the table and move it forward so we can get this change going in a positive direction,” Brown said.

Brown’s recommendations came from a final list of 10 suggestions compiled by an outside renaming committee.

It took the board nine months to vote on a decision, and it did not come without heated discussion. Board member Lesa Keith explained why she believed the names “Freedom High School and Liberty High School” would have been less divisive.

“By naming something one color to another color, it’s almost like we’re trying to beat each other,” Keith said. “If it were about unity, then the words “liberty” and “freedom” would have worked.”

Board member Arica Watkins-Smith said she asked people in the community their opinions on “liberty” and “freedom,” and she said, “they wanted to hear names that really resonated with the demographics of people who are here now, to give our children pride.”

According to numbers from the state, 80% of MPS students are Black. Brown said all four of these individuals are a better representation of who they are.

“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,” Brown said.

  • Percy Julian was a chemist and teacher who was born in Montgomery. He defied the odds in his education and later helped create more affordable medicine.
  • Judge Frank Johnson Jr. was a federal judge in Montgomery whose rulings allowed the civil rights movement to happen, including decisions that favored Rosa Parks, Freedom Riders and voting rights marchers.
  • Ralph Abernathy was a pastor and close associate of Martin Luther King Jr. and was a prominent leader of the civil rights movement.
  • The Rev. Robert Graetz was one of very few white pastors who openly supported the Montgomery bus boycott - the first major campaign of the American civil rights movement.

The name changes are part of the school district’s plan revealed earlier this year.

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