Groups Urging Emory to Remove Names Honoring ‘leading figures of racism’
Current students, graduates, and faculty members are among the group that is pressuring Emory, the state’s largest private university, to remove the names of racist figures that occupy buildings, professorships, and programs at the prestigious Metro Atlanta University.
The group is focused on four men they call “leading figures of racism, slavery, antisemitism, and eugenics.” In a letter to Emory President Gregory Fenves, the group is demanding he act on May 2021 recommendations by a university committee to remove the honors for Atticus Greene Haygood, Lucius Q.C. Lamar, George Foster Pierce, and Robert Yerkes. “(T)hey should no longer be celebrated as heroes at our beloved school,” the letter said. The University Committee on Naming Honors originally recommended removing naming honors of five men from the university, but President Fenves acted on just one name change: August Baldwin Longstreet, a former Emory president who supported slavery. Signers of the letter questioned why the administration didn’t change the four other names.
Founded in 1836, Emory University acknowledged that it used slave labor to build the campus and is among universities across the nation that have acknowledged disturbing parts of its history. Emory declined to offer further insight as to its decisions, instead of releasing a one-sentence statement that said Fenves is actively evaluating the recommendations.
Outspoken critics of the school include Emory law school professor George Shepherd and former Atlanta school board chair Jason Esteves. Shepherd has been on the front lines of the effort to remove Yerkes’ name from the university’s primate research center saying, “It’s a clear case for Emory to do the right thing.” A 2010 graduate of Emory Law School, Esteves has been involved in contentious renaming decisions as a school board member. He signed the letter and commented on the four men, “They belong in the history books and shouldn’t be put on a pedestal.”
When it decided not to act in November on an advisory group’s recommendations to rename more than six dozen buildings and colleges named after men who were slave owners and ardent segregationists, the Georgia Board of Regents was heavily criticized for its inaction. Lori Patton Davis, who chairs the Department of Educational Studies at Ohio State University, said colleges are often reluctant to act in part because the changes may anger major donors.
In not making the recommended changes, the Board of Regents said it considered factors, such as the totality of the person’s contributions to the state and nation. One must also look at the makeup of the Board of Regents to see the person(s) making these decisions. The makeup of this board provides some understanding as to why the Regents are not quick to act because they are not negatively impacted by these racist men of the past.
The Board of Regents is composed of 19 members who oversee the public colleges and universities that comprise the University System of Georgia and have oversight of the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Public Library Service. With only two members of the Board of Regents being Black, this speaks volumes to the unwillingness of this body to act upon these requests that mainly impact Black people and descendants of slaves.