The former Joseph E. Brown Middle School in Atlanta’s Historic West End was renamed for one of the city’s most famous business leaders and entrepreneurs.
The Herman J. Russell West End Academy, formally named Joseph E. Brown Middle School, hosted a renaming ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 15, honoring one of Atlanta’s most renowned business leaders and entrepreneurs.
The renaming of Brown Middle School pays homage and tribute to Herman J. Russell, an Atlanta native who became a well-known real estate and construction businessman and philanthropist. Brown was a secessionist Georgia governor who opposed the abolition of slavery.
Born and raised in the Summerhill community, Herman Jerome “H.J.” Russell diligently displayed his entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. At just 16, Russell purchased a vacant lot from the city of Atlanta with money he had saved, using it to build his first rental property. This spirit of entrepreneurship continued, all while Russell completed a degree in building construction from Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University). In 1952, Russell and his brother, Rogers, founded the business that would become known as H.J. Russell & Co.
After completing his studies and returning home, Russell became deeply embedded in the growth and development of Atlanta through civic engagement. Russell served his way to success through involvement and leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, and philanthropy became an integral part of his activism. He went on to break and eliminate barriers and create opportunities for African Americans to succeed. Through his many philanthropic and civic contributions, Russell strengthened communities by creating jobs, developing housing, and fostering cooperation among Atlanta’s business, civic and religious leaders.
Russell’s legacy is cemented in the city of Atlanta and Castleberry Hill, a vibrant community in the West End that bears a grand mural honoring his works. A unique urban community, the West End brings together the perfect mix of the conveniences of intown living with Southern hospitality, old-fashioned neighborliness, and a strong historic identity. The renaming of the school is in direct alignment to the culture and direction of both Atlanta Public Schools’ and the historic West End’s initiatives for equity, growth and progression.
Herman J. Russell’s extended family and friends, Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring, board members Aretta Baldon, Board Chair Jason Esteves, Vice Chair Eshè Collins, and other key stakeholders were all in attendance during the ceremony.
Dr. Herring shared a warm and invigorating welcome.
“I’m especially proud as an educator for us to be able to stand in this brick and mortar, this morning, to acknowledge and celebrate a very critical, necessary, and appropriate renaming ceremony,” Dr. Herring said. “The renaming decision is historically powerful…it is an opportunity to reflect on the West End community itself. It’s powerful when the school system can take the lead in helping our scholars know that greatness has evolved out of our community, and they, too, can be a part of that greatness.”
Atlanta Public Schools gifted Principal Tiauna Crooms and the entire Herman J. Russell West End Academy, a gold framed photo of the West End Herman J. Russell mural to display in the school.
Crooms was overjoyed and honored to start the new chapter. In her remarks, she acknowledged the significance of renaming Brown Middle School to Herman J. Russell West End Academy.
“Our students come from schools with the names such as M. Agnes Jones, Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, Michael Hollis Innovation Academy, and also Booker T. Washington High School. Those are the names of influential people who have done great in the community. Why not have a name that our kids can feel proud of by understanding the historic aspect of it.”