Wheeler name change supporters plead school board to take action

The logo on front of a Cobb County School District facilityCobb County School District sign (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

“Why don’t you want to have this discussion? Why won’t you respond when we reach out? Why won’t you address it? I’d like a written response answering these three questions within 30 days,” Wheeler Name Change organizer and student Zoe Shepard asked Cobb Board of Education members.

Student organizers and supporters behind the Wheeler Name Change campaign pleaded to Cobb’s school board at their monthly meeting Thursday evening to take action toward renaming the high school named for a Confederate general.

After a nearly year-long campaign, a petition with nearly 5,000 signatures, numerous emails made to school board members, a town hall, and much more work, the students expressed frustration at the board for ignoring their calls to change their school’s name.

Wheeler Name Change supporters want to rename Joseph Wheeler High School in Marietta. The school was named for Joseph Wheeler, who was a Confederate cavalry general during the Civil War.

Wheeler opened in 1965, the same year Cobb County was essentially forced to integrate schools.

Today, a plurality of Black students attend Wheeler.

Students and supporters spoke during the public comments section of the board’s evening portion of their meeting.

They said they do not want to attend a school whose name represents slavery and white supremacy.

“I attend a school whose namesake honors a man who actively fought for a government that worked to ensure that people had the right to own people that look like me,” Shepard, who is Black, told the board. “It is … important that we foster a space of cultural sensitivity and addressing this name change is one way to do so.”

Before the meeting, Wheeler Name Change organizer Jake McGhee said that the group has tried to make their research on Wheeler a board agenda item and was twice denied.

Despite the Democratic members of the board openly supporting Wheeler Name Change, the GOP-dominated board set a rule in place that says there must be a four-person majority to get items on the agenda.

This rule has made it difficult for Democrats to get issues they see as important to be talked about at all during school board meetings.

The school board is divided along political and racial lines, with all three Democrats Black and all four Republicans white.

The school board continues to face criticism from students and its own members that the Black members of the board are being silenced by the white members.

When the Courier reached out to the school board, Howard said that he, Davis and Hutchins all support putting the Wheeler Name Change students’ research on an agenda item.

He said the only thing that stands in the way is the Republican members of the board.

Howard said in an email:

“I’ve been extremely impressed by the student-led advocacy for a Wheeler name change. I, along with Mrs. Davis and Mr. Hutchins, strongly support an agenda item for the entire board to hear their full presentation. I also support the re-formation of the board committee to evaluate our school names across the district. The infamous votes during the November 2020 board meeting both dissolved the school names committee and changed the rules so that it is nearly impossible for the minority board members to get items on our agenda. I strongly urge our board chairman to reconsider.”

At the same November meeting where Republican members shut out Democrats from getting items on the agenda, Republicans also voted to dissolve a committee that would research the history of school names such as Wheeler.

This was much to the disappointment of the Democratic members and Wheeler Name Change supporters.

But students and supporters who want to get rid of symbols of racism made it clear that they will not stop addressing the board until the board takes them up on their matter.

Wheeler student Jiselle Jackson told the board that the debate over Wheeler’s name goes beyond who Wheeler was as a person.

“It’s about values and moral character, building communities [based] on those of fair treatment and kindness,” Jackson said. “After learning the truth, I cannot say Joseph Wheeler represents any of the above.”

Wheeler Name Change also has some support from students attending other Cobb County schools.

South Cobb High School student Jada Foote pointed out that some parents do not feel comfortable sending their children to Wheeler High because it represents someone who fought to preserve slavery.

Foote asked the board if they want their legacy to be protecting one of the last symbols of the Confederacy in the Marietta area.

“ … This board has the power to change the name of Wheeler High School yet it hasn’t,” Foote said. “Please take this into consideration. If not, I will be happy to see you again with the same request. Thank you.”

Another South Cobb student named Sydney Tessman told the board that changing the school’s name comes down to a question of what the district’s values are.

“If you claim your schools are spaces where students belong and are valued, then why are you choosing to ignore and disregard the many calls from your very own students who you are here to serve?” Tessman asked.


Tessman said that by the board beginning to work on a Wheeler name change, that can open the door to larger conversations the school district must have about systemic racism.

“My hope is that the board grows quickly to understand there’s no place in our county for Confederate symbols,” Tessman said. “Please align your values with the community that you serve now — not the community of 1965. This injustice can be corrected through the power of the board. Please show us your values.”

When the Courier reached out to board members David Banks, David Chastain, Randy Scamihorn and Brad Wheeler, they did not reply.

Arielle Robinson is an undergrad at Kennesaw State University. She is the president of the university’s Society of Professional Journalists and an editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records.

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2 Comments on "Wheeler name change supporters plead school board to take action"

  1. Of course they didn’t reply to your request for comment. Board members Banks, Chastain, Scamihorm & Wheeler should be ashamed of themselves. They clearly do not represent the students they were elected to serve & must be voted out.

  2. Stephen R Martiny | March 21, 2021 at 5:38 pm | Reply

    I was also at this same Cobb School Board meeting on Thursday 03-18-2021 and was in fact the first citizen speaker. However, the other side of this issue was not even mentioned in this article.

    As Paul Harvey said on the radio for years I was there to tell “The Rest Of The Story”.
    You must look at the entire life of this person and not just take a slice of the entire pie that fits your agenda.

    They should not change the name of Wheeler HS.

    General Joseph Wheeler was the only person to ever be a General for both the Confederate Army during the Civil War 1861 to 1865 AND afterwards a General for the United States Army.
    The US Army made him a Brigadier General AFTER THE CIVIL WAR and therefore Joseph Wheeler is in fact a US Army Retired General and a High School in Marietta, GA was named after him in the 1960’s.

    Joseph Wheeler was also elected 7 times to US Congress starting in 1880 as a Democrat US Congressman from the State of Alabama and served 18 years.

    US Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler was active General in the Spanish – American War and the Philippine – American War from 1898 to 1900 and helped FREE the FILIPINO PEOPLE that had been ENSLAVED and OPPRESSED by the Spanish for OVER 300 YEARS!!

    There is a large Filipino American Community in Marietta and Cobb County and this CAN NOT BE OVERLOOKED to suit their cherry picked partial information about Joseph Wheeler.
    This is relevant to our community and to disregard this piece of history in this discussion is disrespectful and racist towards the Asian Filipino American community.

    My wife is a Filipino American United States Citizen and took offense at one of the Democrat Cobb School Board members saying that United States Army Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler helping FREE the ENSLAVED and OPPRESSED Filipino people in 1898 to 1900 was not relevant to our community. IT IS RELEVANT! Oh yes this was done by American Troops led by US Army Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler!

    Based on your only looking at partial pieces of people’s lives you are cherry picking only what suits your agenda.

    Do YOU EVER EAT AT A JAPANESE restaurant? Well according to YOUR line of thinking you can NEVER EAT AT A JAPANESE restaurant because they bombed Pearl Harbor and declared war against the USA.

    What about ENGLISH TEA? You can NEVER drink any English Tea because we fought the Revolutionary War against the British. I can go on and on.

    We became friends and allies with Japan and England and the USA became 1 Nation Under God AFTER the Civil War was over.

    When United States Army Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler died in 1906 he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full US Military Honors and one of the few former Confederates to be buried there.
    The requirements to be eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery are amazing!!

    United States Army Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler had a very successful US Army career and served the USA long after the Civil War ended until his death in 1906.

    What is ironic is that many graduates of Wheeler HS never even knew who Joseph Wheeler was. All they knew and cared about was they were a Wheeler Wildcats Alumni!!

    I am proud to be a graduate from Wheeler HS Class of 1981!!

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