Emory University to address ‘legacy of racism’
In the shadow of the George Floyd murder and nationwide protests demanding social justice and racial reconciliation, systemic racism continues to be the topic of the day. More and more places across the country seek to rid themselves of their racist past, however, Cobb County, under the leadership of Lisa Cupid, seems destined to go in the wrong direction on this issue as it continues to honor the civil war in Mableton. Cupid should pay attention to what is occurring across the country and here in Georgia.
Last week, Emory university stepped forward to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth, which is the fact that their schools were built through the labor of slaves. Emory joins other universities who have been forced to deal with this reality and are stepping forward to change the narrative.
As Georgia’s largest private university, Emory is regularly listed as one of the nation’s best institutions of higher education, but many do not know that nearly two centuries ago the land the school began on was originally owned by indigenous people, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and was built by slaves. During the 1830’s, the U.S. government forcibly removed the Muscogees from this land during the “the Trail of Tears.”
Emory is planning to recognize their racist history with memorials on its Atlanta and Oxford campuses. These honors will be dedicated to the slaves whose labor built the university. The Language Hall building, located on the Oxford campus, will be renamed for the late Horace J. Johnson Jr., a Black man who helped integrate public schools in Newton County as a fourth grader in the late 1960s. In 2002, he became the first Black Superior Court judge to serve in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit.
The Longstreet-Means residence hall, named for Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, will be renamed to Eagle Hall. Longstreet served as the university’s president from 1839-1848. The anti-abolitionist strongly supported slavery and secession. In an email to the campus community, current Emory University President Gregory Fenves said, “It is inappropriate for his name to continue to be memorialized in a place of honor on our campus.”
Emory is also studying an official land acknowledgment statement to recognize the university’s location on the homelands of the Muscogees. President Fenves went on to say said in his email, “By understanding our history and expanding the Emory story to include voices, perspectives, and contributions that were overlooked or silenced, we are creating a deeper understanding of who we are and all we can achieve as a university.”
Emory is not alone in its desire to right terrible wrongs, as there have been efforts at schools and universities across the country to address their racist past. Student-led movements are also occurring at high schools, such as Wheeler, but their proactive positions against racism seem lost on Chair Cupid. As buildings, monuments, and racist other names are being removed because of the history of hate they represent, Cupid has foolishly championed naming parks in Mableton after the civil war and dedicated County taxpayer funds to the efforts. Together with her board, she named one park last year after the civil war and Cupid approved a second civil war park in Mableton a few weeks ago. Without the community’s knowledge or support, Cupid and her board embraced this hateful history at the urging of a community group in partnership with a few preservationist.
In 2020, an advisory group was created by the University System of Georgia to address Emory’s history, which included reviewing buildings named after racists. The actions undertaken by Emory are part of the recommendations coming from this advisory group comprised of faculty, staff, students, trustees, and alumni. With these positive changes announced, their important work continues.
Said one observer, “If you got buildings, courts, schools, counties, and monuments all dedicated to folks who advocated for Black people to be seen as less than human, you might live in a racist country. I really don’t know how anyone can argue that racism isn’t endemic to this country’s origin when it feels like every other week, yet another institution has to change the name of a building because it honors an out and out racist.”
As Juneteenth celebrations were occurring last month, Emory held its own event where it apologized to Dr. Marion Hood, a Black medical school applicant who was denied admission to Emory Medical School in 1959 because of the color of his skin.
About 8% of Emory’s 15,000 students are black.