Students Demand Removal of ‘Mild Racist’ From Georgia Landscape

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Under the leadership of African-American activists, a coalition of young people has taken to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism across the country. South demonstrators have called for the removal of Confederate monuments and other symbols of white supremacy. In some cases, they have taken matters into their own hands.
In Atlanta, a large crowd of demonstrators recently gathered around a statue of Henry W. Grady, the late 19th-century American journalist and speaker who campaigned for white dominance. They sang "We can't breathe!" and stood on the terraced base of the statue with signs saying "Black Lynching Must Go!" and "Black life is important."
A number of state and city leaders have subsequently agreed to remove Confederate monuments in Virginia and Alabama, although laws prohibit their removal. However, the fate of the Grady statue remains unsolved.
As a journalist historian, I wrote about Grady, the former editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Constitution (now the Atlanta Journal Constitution). Grady was also a celebrated spokesman for the New South, who promoted the North's investment in the industrialization of the South, and leader of the white Supremacist ring of Democrats that controlled Georgia after reconstruction.
Grady is usually portrayed as a brilliant editor and "mild racist" who helped build modern Atlanta. My attitude is different. Grady used his newspaper as a political tool to end the biracial experiment of reconstruction in democracy. In his place, he helped create a deeply anti-democratic, white supremacist social order that existed in the south until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
‘Rename Grady’
Today's young demonstrators are forcing a reassessment of Grady's legacy.
In December, the Georgia State University student newspaper published an open letter to the Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, asking her to demolish this statue in relation to the Grady statue in the vicinity of the various universities.
In February, students at Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta asked the school board to give the school a name that "doesn't honor a segregationist."
And last week, when protests against police brutality consumed the country, the University of Georgia student newspaper asked the school to rename its Grady College for journalism and mass communication. The motto is: “We are Grady. A petition calls on the Board of Regents to rename "Grady" to honor Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a journalist who helped integrate the university in 1961.
Grady and convict leasing
These demands are important because the consequences of Grady's beliefs can still be felt today.
To understand the roots of anti-black bias in modern policing, the history of convict work in the south is a good place to start.
In the 1880s, Grady used the pages of the Atlanta Constitution to defend the brutal convict leasing system in Georgia. As part of politics, the state arrested and sentenced black men, women and children for sweeping the country, minor offenses and false allegations. Heads of state then leased prisoners to private industrial companies, which exploited their labor.
Why did Grady protect such a system? Each member of his Atlanta Ring - the cabal of Democratic Party leaders who cycled through the governor's office and the United States Senate - filled their pockets with profits from the condemned lease. Some built up an enormous fortune.
Their camps were places of horror. The convicts were forced to work with insufficient food, clothing and shelter from sunrise to sunset. Women were attacked and children were born and brought up in captivity. Inhumane punishments included flogging, lacing on the thumb, sweat box and water torture, similar to waterboarding. Death was widespread through torture, illness, accident and suicide.
One of Grady's close friends, Robert Alston, tried to uncover the system and was killed in a suspicious incident at the Georgia State House involving members of the Atlanta Ring. Grady reported on the dirty condition of the Constitution, soon became the managing editor and partner, and spent the rest of his life protecting the prisoners' leases.
Black resistor is mounted
During Grady's era, black journalists sharply condemned Grady's New South doctrine and the systems of white domination that he helped build.
William J. White, a prominent black editor and founder of what would later become Morehouse College, said: “The fate of many prominent white Georgia families is red with the blood and sweat of black men who rightly and wrongly kept them at work in Georgia prison become camp. "
In Southern Horrors, the first of her many lynching reports, Ida B. Wells Grady and his New South doctrine blamed racist terror lynching in the south. And in Lynch Law in Georgia, she exposed the active role played by the Atlanta Constitution and other white newspapers in inciting lynching, including the brutal lynching of Sam Hose. "The southern press," she wrote, "is committed to burning men alive."
In the constitution, Grady covered lynching with worryingly light-hearted headlines. A story about triple lynching was titled "Triple Trapeze". Another heading rhymed: "Two minutes to pray before a rope unbalances." He oversaw the reporting, which actively stimulated Lynchen and demonized victims as "wrongdoers", "blanks" and "fiends".
Like Wells, T. Thomas Fortune, the most influential black journalist of the time, would not insist that the south be left alone from the north to solve the "Negro's" problem.
"Grady appeals to the North to leave the racial question to" us "and" we "will settle it," wrote Fortune. "We will; But the" we "that Mr. Grady" had in mind "will not be allowed to regulate it on his own. No way, Mr. Grady. Not only the white" we "but also the colored" we " will demand a share in this settlement. "
Happiness repeatedly faced Grady, calling Georgia's convict system a "cul-de-sac of humiliation and crime" that flourished "under the prophet Grady's nostrils".
In the last speech of his life, Grady attacked Fortune as an "African-American agitator," apparently concerned about Fortune's creation of the Afro-American League, a national civil rights group.
In 1889, Grady spoke out in Boston against the Lodge Bill, a federal law protecting the black voice in the south. Congress defeated the measure and the white south had been deprived of black voters by law, fraud and violence for generations.
Black Americans who lived in Grady's day understood the man and his work for what they were. And they left a record in their journalism. White, Wells, Fortune and others have created a black public that has since worked to build a more inclusive, egalitarian America.
Students in Georgia who have learned their history have joined the fight. What happens next is important if we ever want to reach the America we all deserve.
Journalists Ethan Bakuli and Natalie DiDomenico from the University of Massachusetts Amherst researched this article. Portions of this article originally appeared in an earlier article published on February 15, 2019.
The conversation
Kathy Roberts Forde, associate professor, Department of Journalism, University of Massachusetts Amherst
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Image: Reuters
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