Atlanta public school named after Ku Klux Klan grand wizard renamed for Henry Aaron

An Atlanta public school named for notorious Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest is getting a new name.

After a unanimous vote by the Atlanta Board of Education on Monday, Forrest Hills Academy will now be known as Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy. The change will take effect in time for students to return to school in the fall.

'Names do matter'

“It is very important that we understand our history," school board member Michelle Olympiadis said, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It’s very important that we understand where we are coming from."

"Names do matter," board member Jason Esteves said.

Henry "Hank" Aaron is an Atlanta Braves icon who retired as MLB's home run king in 1976. A civil rights stalwart, Aaron broke color barriers in baseball and used his platform to promote social justice causes. He died in January at 86 years old.

He also preferred to go by his given name Henry instead of Hank, something the school board may not have been aware of when deciding on the school's name. According to the Washington Post, "Hank" was a moniker given to Aaron by a public relations staffer who thought the nickname was more palatable to white fans.

Hank Aaron of Atlanta Braves is shown in an undated photo. (AP Photo)
An Atlanta high school will now bear Hank Aaron's name. (AP Photo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Why was the school named after Forrest to begin with?

Forrest was a general in the Confederate army during the Civil War who was later elected the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in 1867, two years after the conclusion of the war. He oversaw the 1864 Fort Pillow massacre where his men killed roughly 300 Black Union army troops after they surrendered.

Why is a school in 2021 named after Forrest to begin with? Atlanta councilwoman Joyce Sheperd explained in December that officials named the school after the street where it resides, unaware of the name's historical significance.

“At the time, our decision was based on the name of the road in front of the school,” Shepard said. “We were unaware of the history of the naming, so it’s appropriate that we as the community begin to correct this and find a better name.”

Is street name change next?

School board member Eshé Collins, who led the committee that recommended the name change honoring Aaron, said the conversation has sparked neighborhood discussions about changing the street name too.

The school name change required a unanimous vote to override a district policy requiring a five-year waiting period after a person's death to use their name on a school, according to AJC. According to Atlanta's 11 Alive, the Hank Aaron Center for Learning and Growth, Barbara Whitaker Center of Excellence and Hammond Park Academy were also considered as names.

The newly named Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy is an alternative school focusing on students in need of additional academic support.

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