Message from President Fenves: Continuing to examine the Emory story
June 28, 2021
Last year President Gregory L. Fenves announced steps to examine Emory’s history and reconcile elements of our past with our present mission and values. He updated the Emory community in a message sent June 28.
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The following message was sent to the Emory community on June 28, 2021, by President Gregory L. Fenves:
Dear Emory Community,
Nearly a year ago, I announced steps to examine Emory’s history and reconcile elements of our past—including a legacy of racism, disenfranchisement, and dispossession—with our present mission and values. Today, I am pleased to provide an update on our progress.
Last fall, Interim Provost Jan Love and I reconvened the Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations with a charge to help our university tell Emory’s story with specific attention to enslaved persons with ties to Emory and Indigenous peoples on whose land the campus was built. In April, the Task Force released an executive summary of their findings and put forth a series of recommendations.
Interim Provost Love and I also reappointed the University Committee on Naming Honors to review contested historic names associated with buildings, spaces, programs, and scholarships. The Committee has submitted its report with recommendations for five names currently associated with the university and one new honorific name.
The chairs and members of the Committee and Task Force—including faculty, staff, students, trustees, and alumni—dedicated countless hours to these vital projects. I am grateful for their leadership and commitment. They outlined plans for our future while helping us find ways to come to terms with painful chapters in our history. And they shed light on how symbols and memorials shape the Emory story. Who, and what, we choose to honor at Emory is a direct reflection of our values.
After considering all the recommendations, the university is taking the following actions:
- Emory will develop plans for twin memorials for the Atlanta and Oxford campuses to honor the labor of enslaved individuals who helped build the university in its earliest days.
- Gregory C. Ellison II 99C, associate professor in Candler School of Theology, and Douglas Hicks, dean of Oxford College, will co-chair a Twin Memorials Working Group comprising Emory leadership, faculty, staff, and students who will prepare a “Request for Proposals” for developing the memorials and circulate this request to architects, artists, and designers.
- The Working Group will also lead efforts to memorialize and remember the enslaved laborers who contributed to Emory through annual rituals, campus-wide programming, and visits for new students to the Oxford and Atlanta campuses.
- Language Hall at Oxford College will be renamed in honor of Horace J. Johnson Jr.
- After reviewing the legacy and impact of Horace J. Johnson Jr., the Committee recommended that Language Hall at Oxford College be renamed in his honor.
- Judge Johnson was a widely respected jurist and Emory alumnus who made extraordinary contributions to the greater Atlanta and Newton County communities. He dedicated his life to public service, and his many achievements reflect the Emory mission to “create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.”
- I support the Committee’s recommendation to name Language Hall for Judge Johnson, and the Emory Board of Trustees approved the naming of Johnson Hall earlier this month. It will be dedicated on the Oxford College campus in October.
- The Longstreet-Means residence hall will be renamed Eagle Hall.
- After reviewing the legacy of Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, president of Emory College from 1839 to 1848, the Committee recommended changing the name of the Longstreet-Means residence hall and the Augustus Baldwin Longstreet professorship in English.
- The Committee’s research shows that Longstreet used his platform as Emory’s president to promote pro-slavery views. He opposed abolition and strongly defended slavery and secession. It is inappropriate for his name to continue to be memorialized in a place of honor on our campus.
- I support the Committee recommendation to change the name of the Longstreet-Means residence hall and, after consultation, have selected a new name for the building—Eagle Hall. The Emory Board of Trustees approved the naming of Eagle Hall earlier this month.
- In addition, a professorship—Emory’s Longstreet Professor of English—will be renamed as Emory College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English.
The Committee recommended removing the names of Atticus Greene Haygood, L. Q. C. Lamar, George Foster Pierce, and Robert Yerkes from honorific placements on campus. I will continue to review the research and seek consultation on these names.
I will consider the other recommendations from the Task Force, including how we honor the history of Indigenous peoples at Emory. We will explore the adoption of an official land acknowledgment statement to recognize the university’s location on the homelands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. We will also consider the creation of physical reminders and remembrance rituals on our campuses to honor the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and highlight the Muscogee language and culture.
During the past year, Emory has taken many steps to strengthen our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Some of the previously announced actions include:
- The establishment of remembrance scholarships for descendants of enslaved persons at Emory, the first of which will be awarded to qualified students in fall 2022.
- The addition of a general education requirement in Emory College in partnership with Oxford College focused on race and ethnicity that will begin this fall.
- An Emory-sponsored symposium on slavery and dispossession that will take place from September 29 to October 1.
- The hiring of Russell Griffin as Emory’s first director of diversity and inclusion education and outreach.
This work reflects the university’s commitment to our values as we strive to improve the Emory experience for our community. 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.
Gregory L. Fenves