Cobb County students fight for change at school named after Confederate leader

There are 198 public schools around the country named in honor of Confederate leaders, 45 of them are in Georgia, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 5:37 PM EST
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MARIETTA, Ga. (CBS46) — Marietta students continue their campaign this year to rename their high school, after finding out it was named in honor of a Confederate general. Since 2020, the Cobb County Board of Education majority has voted to put it on the back burner.

But the students haven’t given up yet — and they’re fed up.

As Confederate statues have come down around Georgia in the last few years because of community activism, some districts like Atlanta Public Schools have also changed school names. Students here at Wheeler High School in Cobb County say their school is lagging behind.

“Once I knew what my school was named after, and what it meant, I couldn’t just be OK with it,” said Zoe Shepard, a Wheeler High School senior.

Over a dozen students delivered an elaborate and historical presentation during public comment at a school boarding meeting in April. Shepard says Wheeler High School students rallied together after learning about Joseph Wheeler, a commander of the Confederate army.

“It was a person who was part of a government that fought to keep slavery going, and they fought for the oppression of a people that I personally belong to,” Shepard said. She spoke during the public comment at a school board meeting.

“By not changing the name, you’re communicating that you agree with the commemoration of this person, and subsequently have found nothing wrong with the relevant historical data under which the name was adopted and what it continues to perpetuate,” Shepard said.

The board originally formed a committee to discuss the school’s name, but three months later, the board tabled the discussion by a 4-2 vote, split between racial and party lines.

The committee was dissolved at the end of 2020, which prompted the students’ activism.

CBS46 reached out to the board members who voted to dissolve the committee, and did not get a response.

Students tell CBS46 one of the board members, Brad Wheeler, who has no relation to the Confederate commander, met with them in December to discuss why the committee disbanded.

“He told us that it was too broad of an issue to be handled in the committee,” Shepard said.

Despite the school’s name remaining the same, t-shirts and wrist-bands made by the students show they haven’t given up yet.

“Even with sports events, these small school sport events, we chant the name all the time. And we want that name to be representative of who we are, and what we represent,” said Shweta Krishnan, a Wheeler High School senior.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says, there are 198 public schools around the country named in honor of Confederate leaders.

“Georgia sadly leads the pack with 45 public schools across Georgia honoring confederate leaders — the most in the nation,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff and culture at Southern Poverty Law Center.

Currently, more than two-thirds of Wheeler High School is made up of minority students.

“I really want to encourage the students at Wheeler, and the students across the country to create change,” Brooks said.

Wheeler students say they will keep attending board meetings until it’s addressed. “It’s not a negative response, it’s a lack response, and therefore, that’s really frustrating,” Krishnan said.

A district spokesperson sent CBS46 a statement saying, “As a district, we are focused on teaching and learning while our board is committed to hearing from all voices in the community.”

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