Letters to the EditorNews

Rename the Grady College for Charlayne Hunter-Gault

I’m a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, a former editor-in-chief of the The Red & Black student newspaper at UGA, a professional journalist for nearly 12 years, a past mentor to Grady College students and a graduate who cares deeply about the well-being of UGA. As of this summer, I am no longer a donor to UGA scholarship programs.

Almost since its founding, I donated to the Conrad Fink Scholars Fund. Fink, who died in 2012, was a beloved journalism professor at UGA’s Grady College for nearly 30 years, following a distinguished career with the Associated Press as both an international correspondent and executive. Before I gave a recurring monthly donation, I would field phone calls from the Alumni Association asking for donations. Fink’s scholarship is where I wanted my money to go.

Fink, with his unique teaching style, ushered countless Grady students into the journalism field, and students were always better for it. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t know Fink what an impression he left on you, but I eventually landed at a reputable, national news organization, always keeping Fink’s words of wisdom close. I wouldn’t be where I am today professionally without Fink and was happy to give to a scholarship established in his name. That devotion to and love of Fink is why it was so difficult for me to stop my giving in his name earlier this month. But doing so, I believe, is the only way to bring a bigger, needed change to Grady—its name change.

The reasons for dropping Grady’s name from UGA’s journalism school have been well documented. Henry W. Grady, managing editor of the Atlanta Constitution in the late 1800s, used his platform to advocate for a “New South,” one more industrialized rather than agrarian. But he also spoke of the need to maintain the superiority of whites over Blacks, and his newspaper covered lynchings in a cavalier manner. He was a racist, and brandishing his name across the journalism school glorifies a man whose ideals don’t match today’s values.

I have no faith, after years of calls for Grady’s name to be removed from the UGA journalism school, that the school’s administration or state leaders will act. Instead, I am using what power I have through my financial support of the school to try to force action. I hope others will do the same. School rankings like the U.S. News and World Report’s are based in part on the share of alumni who donate to the school, so while my support is a fraction of the total that comes in (UGA raised $1.45 billion in its recent Commit to Georgia campaign), we not-so-deep-pocketed donors carry some influence.

Grady wasn’t just a racist, but he used his powerful perch as a newspaper editor to spread his ideals. In Fink’s classes on opinion writing and ethics, both of which I took, I can’t remember Fink criticizing an opinion on whether it was right or wrong, just how you expressed it through writing. I do remember Fink constantly reminding me, when I was Red & Black editor, of the power of newspaper editorials and the position newspapers had in a community. I also remember how Fink preached that newspapers should “be a voice for the voiceless.” It seems to me that Henry W. Grady didn’t follow those principles and instead used the Atlanta Constitution to do just the opposite.

I instead support the UGA journalism school being named after Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a respected Black journalist and UGA graduate whose work is something Grady students, alumni and faculty can be proud to represent. Hunter-Gault became the first of two African-American students to enroll at UGA in 1961. 

I also don’t want to hurt the long-term viability of the Fink scholarship, so when Grady’s name is dropped, I have given my word to return with a stronger financial commitment to the college and Fink’s name. But until then, I hope the school does the right thing and moves on from the stench that comes with Grady’s name.