New Muscogee school named amid controversy. Survey shows public wants different choice

The naming of the newest public school in Columbus generated controversy two months ago when the Muscogee County School District Board unanimously approved Mary A. Buckner Elementary School as the name of the facility scheduled to open in August 2024.

It’s being constructed on the property of Dawson Elementary School, 180 Northstar Drive, and will educate students residing in the attendance zones of Dawson and St. Marys Road Magnet Academy, one mile away. Those two schools will merge into the new one.

Buckner was the first African American and first woman to be a judge in Columbus Recorder’s Court and the first Black woman to graduate from Mercer University’s law school. The Columbus native grew up in the Dawson Drive area and attended the school that then was called St. James and later named Dawson. She died at 73 in 2021.

Mary Buckner Mike Haskey/
Mary Buckner Mike Haskey/

The controversy isn’t about the school being named after Buckner, but the process. Nobody publicly has said she isn’t worthy of having the school named in her honor.

MCSD policy allows the board member representing the district where the new school is located to recommend the new school’s name to the board for approval.

The new school is in District 4, which is represented on the school board by Naomi Buckner, sister of Mary Buckner.

Naomi Buckner made her recommendation to the board during its June meeting. Board members not only unanimously waived the one-month waiting period to vote on the recommendation, but they did so after hearing an allegation that Naomi Buckner went against the recommendation from the committee she appointed.

Committee recommendation

The Ledger-Enquirer reported in May that Naomi Buckner appointed a committee of stakeholders to help her make the recommendation. In addition to Buckner, the committee members were:

  • Trenton Chester, businessman in District 4

  • Cassandra Downing, teacher at Dawson

  • Mary Farley, Dawson alumna, former Dawson parent and current Dawson grandparent

  • Seritha Love, St. Marys alumna and former St. Marys parent

  • Sasha Smith, academic coach at St. Marys

  • Kimberly Wright, MCSD communications director.

The committee also conducted an online survey to gather community input. The survey’s results weren’t publicly released.

Although the committee’s report is written as if the proposal to name the school for Mary Buckner comes from the committee, one of the committee’s members told the board in June that isn’t the case.

Downing said the committee instead voted 5-2 to recommend naming the school in honor of the late Mary Lee Hall Bussey, who led Muscogee’s “Negro” schools for 18 years during segregation.

Mary Lee Hall Bussey Courtesy of the Muscogee County School District
Mary Lee Hall Bussey Courtesy of the Muscogee County School District

The day after that board meeting, the Ledger-Enquirer requested from Wright a copy of the survey’s results. Smith emailed the L-E a copy two days later.

That document contains the survey’s raw data in a spread sheet with the 338 responses submitted from May to June. The Ledger-Enquirer requested a summary of the results. It wasn’t provided, so the L-E sorted through the data and compiled the total votes for the suggested names of the new school.

Bussey’s name indeed was the most popular suggestion, with 55 votes, understanding that the survey allowed people to submit unlimited responses until the deadline.

Mary Buckner received 14 votes, the fourth-most among suggestions for the school to be named for one person. That total trails the 29 votes for Jon Keller (unclear importance) and the 17 votes for Samuel Prince Charleston (former principal of Spencer High School, Claflin Elementary School, Spencer Junior High School and Carver High School).

There were 39 suggestions for the new school’s name to include some combination of Dawson and St. Marys or just one of them. The most popular version in this category was “St. or Saint Dawson,” with 15 votes.

And among the rest of the suggestions, comprising names related to geography or a concept, the most popular was Northstar, the name of the street where Dawson is located, with 16 votes.

Here’s the complete list of the survey’s suggested names for the new school:


55 votes

Mary Lee Hall Bussey (superintendent of Black school system in Columbus from 1950-68 during segregation)

29 votes

Jon Keller (unclear importance)

17 votes

Samuel Prince Charleston (former MCSD principal)

14 votes

Mary Buckner (first African American and first woman to be a judge in Columbus Recorder’s Court and the first Black woman to graduate from Mercer University’s law school)

6 votes

Eugene Bullard (first Black military pilot)

Eddie Lindsey (first Black assistant MCSD superintendent)

5 votes

Shirley B. Winston (Columbus police officer fatally shot when partner’s gun accidently discharged while struggling to subdue a suspect)

4 votes

Jack Chester (founder of the store that became Chester’s Grocery and Barbeque)

Hiawatha Covington (former teacher, principal and personnel director for MCSD)

Delmar Edwards (first African American to practice surgery in Columbus)

Horace King (rose from slavery to become renowned architect engineer and bridge builder)

Evelyn Turner Pugh (former Columbus councilor and mayor pro tem)

Matthew Rivers (former Dawson principal)

3 votes

Marie Deramus (former MCSD administrator)

Mike Edmondson (former MCSD teacher and board member)

Ma Rainey (singer known as the Mother of the Blues)

2 votes

Donald B. Caldwell Sr. (former Cusseta Road and Second Avenue principal)

John Henrik Clarke (pioneer in the formation of African studies in the United States)

George “GG” Johnson (former pro golfer)

Johnny Freeman (former Spencer High School principal)

A.J. McClung (former Columbus mayor pro tem became first African American to serve as mayor of a major Southern city in 1973, when Mayor J.R. Allen died in a plane crash)

Barack Obama (first African American elected U.S. president)

Alma Thomas (artist and teacher, first African American to have solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art)

Calvin Smyre (represented Columbus in the Georgia House from 1975-2022, the state’s longest-serving lawmaker when he left the legislature)

1 vote

Rudolph Allen (civil rights activist, founder and former pastor of Revelation Missionary Baptist Church)

Dan Amos (CEO of Aflac)

John B. Amos (Aflac cofounder)

Elena Diaz-Verson Amos (philanthropist)

Mary McLeod Bethune (civil rights activist, educator and presidential adviser)

Alfonso Biggs (documented local Black history, master chef cooked for five Fort Benning generals and three presidents)

Osama bin Laden (terrorist)

Sanford Bishop Jr. (congressman)

Freddie Blackmon (former Columbus police chief)

Buckner-Chester (combination of the Rev. Ed Buckner, former pastor of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, and Jack Chester, founder of store that became Chester’s Grocery and Barbeque)

Jim Buntin (former MCSD superintendent)

Bussey-Ford (combination of Bussey and George Ford, founder of Progressive Funeral Home and first African American to run for Muscogee County public office in 20th century)

Carmen Cavezza (former Fort Benning commanding general and Columbus city manager)

Morris Clarke (former Marshall Junior High School principal, first African American to serve on a Muscogee County grand jury)

George Corradino (former MCSD music education director)

Chris Cox (former MCSD principal)

Eloise S. Crane (former MCSD music teacher)

Christine de Pizan (medieval writer, poet and women’s rights advocate)

Leif Erikson (Norse explorer, considered first European to reach North America)

Jody Flournoy (Navy pilot killed in jet crash)

Galloway (no first name mentioned)

Veronis Bolden Hall (former MCSD principal and personnel coordinator)

Ann L. Hardman (former Muscogee County Superior Court clerk and pastor)

Charles and Malinda Huff (founders of Charles E. Huff’s International Funeral Home); Malinda was a teacher for 38 years)

Martin Luther King Jr. (civil rights activist)

Primus King (Black barber and minister tried to vote in Muscogee County’s 1944 Democratic Party, starting modern civil rights movement in Georgia that led to U.S. Circuit Court ending state’s “whites-only” primary)

Jerry Lockett (family’s 1965 lawsuit helped end segregation in Muscogee County schools)

Lizzie Mae Lunsford (businesswoman and philanthropist funded downtown Columbus USO for Black soldiers)

Betty “BJ” McBride (former MCSD director of guidance services, social work and safe and drug-free schools)

Menawa (chief of Native American Muscogee tribe)

Mattie Minter (former educator)

Hal Moore (Vietnam War hero)

Braxton Nail (former MCSD superintendent)

John Pemberton (pharmacist invented Coca-Cola)

Bobby G. Peters (Superior Court judge, former mayor and Columbus councilor)

Rosa Parks (civil rights activist)

Dewey Renfroe (former MCSD coach and principal)

George P. Swift (former president of Muscogee Manufacturing Company and cofounder of Swift Manufacturing)

Donald Trump (former U.S. president)

Carrie P. Wardlaw (former Bibb Mill employee who advocated for parents to be involved in their children’s education)

Booker T. Washington (educator, civil rights activist and founder of institution now called Tuskegee University)

Suggestions including parts of the existing school names

15 votes

St. or Saint Dawson

6 votes


3 votes

Mary Dawson

Dawson St Marys

St. Marys

St. Mary Dawson

1 vote

Dawson & Mary

Dawson Estates

D & S

Mary And Dawson

St. Marys Diamond

St. Marys and Dawson

Other suggestions

16 votes


3 votes

Fountain City

Schooly McSchoolface

2 votes


East Columbus


1 vote

Alexander and Chester



Bibb City


Chattahoochee River

East Liberty

East Side



Georgia Academy



Happy Whatever School

Higher Learning School




Kid Strong

Little Sprouts

Lunar Legacy



Minority Development Facility


Muscogee County

New Beginnings

New Claflin

Old Town



River City

South Lowell

Students of Success

Tiger Creek

Upatoi Creek