The University of Georgia is asking regents to name two buildings for early Black graduates

UGA President Jere Morehead attends the 74th Annual Peabody Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on Sunday, May 31, 2015, in New York.

Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

The University of Georgia is asking regents to name two buildings for some of the university’s earliest Black graduates. This week’s proposal followed a decision by the University System of Georgia regents not to remove names of any people associated with slavery, segregation or the mistreatment of Native Americans from 75 buildings statewide.

University President Jere Morehead said UGA would seek to name its existing science library for Shirley Mathis McBay, the first African American to earn a doctorate from the university. UGA also is asking regents to name a dormitory under construction for Harold A. Black, Mary Blackwell Diallo and Kerry Rushin Miller. They were the first three African-American students to enroll at UGA as freshmen and graduate.

Regents decide the names of buildings and facilities at all of Georgia’s 26 public universities and colleges. Their next scheduled meeting is in January.

“Through these namings, we acknowledge the importance of these pioneers in the history of our institution,” Morehead said in a statement. “We celebrate their remarkable achievements and recognize the profoundly positive, lasting impact they have made on the University of Georgia.”

When regents rejected renaming buildings honoring people associated with the mistreatment of Blacks and Native Americans on Nov. 22, they adopted a statement saying that “Going forward, the board is committed to naming actions that reflect the strength and energy of Georgia’s diversity.”

UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor said the university had been considering the two new names for some time and anticipates regents will approve them “in the near future.”

McBay earned a math doctorate from UGA in 1966 after earning master’s degrees from what is now Clark Atlanta University. McBay taught at Atlanta’s Spelman College before becoming dean of student affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also chaired the National Science Foundation’s committee on equal opportunity and created the Quality Education for Minorities Network. McBay died Nov. 27 at age 86.

The 40,000-student university said it also wants to name a $50 million, 525-bed dormitory that it will open in fall 2022 for Black, Diallo and Miller.

Black retired from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville after 24 years as a finance professor. A UGA business chair is also named for Black.

Diallo earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in French literature from UGA, teaching at Morehouse College before retiring this year from Florida A&M University. She served as president of the faculty senate and a trustee at Florida A&M.

Miller earned a math degree from UGA and worked in telecommunications, retiring from BellSouth after 29 years, mostly in Charlotte, North Carolina. Miller helped develop an education program to help at-risk elementary and middle school students.

The university in 2001 named a building for Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first Black students to enroll under federal court order in 1961. UGA named its college of education for Mary Frances Early, its first Black graduate, in 2019.

Some critics said naming buildings for early Black graduates doesn’t make it right to leave names of racists on other buildings.

“We’re still left to have to face the physical legacy of segregationists and slavery apologists as we walk around campus,” said Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker, also a UGA doctoral student. “In this moment, it feels like they have to save face right now.”

Thirty-one of the 75 buildings the renaming committee suggested for changes are at UGA, in part because of its size and age. That includes a library named for late U.S. Sen Richard Russell and a building and institute of government both named for the late U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson. Both Russell and Vinson defended segregation.

The committee also recommended renaming UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, citing newspaper editor Henry W. Grady’s support of white supremacy even as he preached a “New South” creed of industrialization.


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