Award-winning journalist and civil rights pioneer Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

Image: Evan Sigmund

Few living Americans have been greater witnesses to the civil rights movement, here and abroad, than Charlayne Hunter-Gault. But she was far more than a bystander. In 1961, Hunter-Gault was the first black student to integrate the University of Georgia. She later became a star reporter with The New Yorker and the first Harlem bureau chief for The New York Times. In the 1990s, she worked for PBS Newshour and as the Africa correspondent for NPR and CNN, covering the democratic transformation of South Africa under Nelson Mandela.

Hunter-Gault, now 78, has won Emmy and Peabody awards for her work and remains actively involved with her alma mater. She currently lives in Sarasota. This weekend, two University of Georgia alumnae began circulating a Change.org petition to rename the school's Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication after Hunter-Gault.

According to the petition, Henry Grady (1850-1899), the journalist and orator after whom the college is currently named, has long been heralded in the Georgia education system as a progressive Southern leader. But Grady's tenure at the Atlanta Constitution resulted in headlines like "Lynching Too Good for the Black Miscreant Who Assaulted Mrs. Bush: He Will Be Lynched." And in his famous "New South" speech in 1886, Grady said, “The supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards—because the white race is the superior race."

University of Georgia students and graduates—and thousands of others who have signed the petition—think Hunter-Gault is a much more deserving figurehead for the journalism school.

"If anyone is worried about the logistics of removing and replacing Grady’s name, I have good news," writer Sam Jones said in a guest editorial for The Red & Black, an independent student newspaper that reports on the University of Georgia. "We don’t have to look far for something better. Better would be celebrating the first black woman to attend UGA and the first to graduate from the journalism school: 1963 grad and award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault."

According to the petition, more than 7,700 people agree with Jones, so far. There is also a website and social media accounts (@RenameGrady) dedicated to the movement, which also comes as protesters across the country advocate for the removal of Confederate statues and symbols in their cities and states.

“As a reporter, I consider myself a servant of the people," Hunter-Gault told us last year. "Journalists are not enemies of the people. We don’t tell people what to think. Through good fact-finding reporting, we give them information that allows them to make good decisions.”

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