Emory's 'Regret' for Slavery Ties

Historians in the News

In early February, scholars and university presidents from across the country will gather at Emory University for a conference on "Slavery and the University." For even as the United States marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, some of its battles continue to flare on campuses. Last year, for example, Eastern Illinois University rejected a faculty proposal to rename a dormitory that honors Stephen A. Douglas, who debated Lincoln and who many argued -- at that time and today -- defended slavery in unacceptable ways.

While some campuses argue over statues and building names, other institutions have a history of direct ties to slavery -- and those histories will be examined at the Emory conference. The Atlanta institution itself this month responded to the conference's call for self-reflection. The university has documented many ties to slavery in its antebellum roots, and the executive committee of the university's board this month adopted a statement formally acknowledging the results and their implications.

The statement reads: "Emory acknowledges its entwinement with the institution of slavery throughout the college's early history. Emory regrets both this undeniable wrong and the university's decades of delay in acknowledging slavery's harmful legacy. As Emory University looks forward, it seeks the wisdom always to discern what is right and the courage to abide by its mission of using knowledge to serve humanity."

While a number of colleges and universities have in recent years examined their ties to slavery, and all have done so out of a sense that slavery was abhorrent, many have shied away from such a formal institutional statement. Brown University conducted one of the most publicized inquiries, and its commission on the topic released detailed findings, but said this on the subject of an institutional statement: "While members of the steering committee have different opinions about the propriety and value of an institutional apology, we believe that it is incumbent on the university, at a minimum, to acknowledge formally and publicly the participation of many of Brown’s founders and benefactors in the institution of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, as well as the benefits that the university derived from them."...

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