Backed by NBA star Jaylen Brown, these Georgia students are leading the charge to remove a Confederate general's name from their high school
Students at a Georgia high school are leading a campaign to remove a Confederate general name's from their school. And they're winning some high-profile support from a graduate who's now an NBA star.
At Wheeler High School in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta, students who identify as Black make up more than one-third of the enrollment, while another third identify as Hispanic, Asian American, or mixed race.
Jake McGhee, a senior there, told CBS News this week that the Wheeler name is a "slap in the face to the students of color at our school."
"It's something that [Cobb County School Board] won't even recognize or talk about anymore," McGee said. "And that's why it's such a significant issue."
Fueled by widespread racial justice protests earlier this year, the teens along with parents, teachers and alumni circulated a petition to change the name of the school, receiving more than 4,800 signatures since mid-June. Despite that show of support, the Republican-majority school board voted last month to disband a name-change committee that was approved over the summer to explore options.
The students' push, however, captured the attention of alum and Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown, who showed his support on Twitter earlier this month.
"I've been introduced to a bunch of young ladies who have been pushing to get that changed," Brown explained during Celtics Media Day. "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. I think it's time to move to the future, so I tweeted out a link."
His attention meant a lot to Zoe Shepard, Nina Kesava, Caroline Hugh, Sydney Spessard and McGhee, current students behind the "Wheeler Name Change" website who spoke to CBS News. They said he also offered resources to communicate with him.
"He told us like, frankly, what we're working on now, it's so past timely," Spessard said. "He fully supports us and his support is greatly appreciated."
The school was named after Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate cavalry general who later enlisted to fight with the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars. The school adopted the name in 1965, the same year Cobb County began integrating schools. Wheeler Name Change, which outlines the reasons behind the name change, noted that Wheeler had no ties to the local area and the school was given the name as "pushback against integration and as a display of hostility towards the new students."
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that focuses on ending mass incarceration and challenging the narrative on race, the practice of naming schools in honor of defenders of slavery was "part of a broader effort to maintain racial hierarchy in the U.S."
Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told CBS News that the school is one of nine high schools in the state of Georgia named after a Confederate leader.
Shepard, a junior, told CBS News that she learned about the history her sophomore year and said it felt "normal" to have his name emblazoned on school property. However, Shepard pointed out that's another conversation that needs to happen.
"I feel like that's also something that we're trying to address, we're kind of trying to take the take it out of norm, take it out of something that's just typical for you to see in society," she said.
A school board meeting will be held Thursday, where again members of the community will voice their position and likely challenge the board's November decision.
"We recognize that this does not solve all of the problems that we're going to have to combat for the rest of our lives," Spessard said. "However, this is a really significant first step, a good starting point for the board to recognize that there are issues that need to be dealt with and for the board to recognize that there are students here with opinions who want to talk about it."
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