Emory University will launch the second phase of its Twin Memorials Project on Feb. 17, which seeks to construct parallel memorials on the Oxford and Atlanta campuses, recognizing enslaved persons who built parts of the University.  

During this phase, Baskervill, a design firm from Richmond, Virginia that Emory hired to work on the Twin Memorials, will conceptualize memorial ideas based on community feedback provided during phase one. 

The firm is currently working with the College of William & Mary (Va.) to construct a “Memorial to the Enslaved” and has completed similar projects in the past, such as the Richmond Slave Trail and Reconciliation Plaza. The working group will re-invite the community to reflect on Baskervill’s ideas starting Feb. 17. 

A recommendation from the working group on the monuments is expected this summer, according to project co-chairs Oxford College Dean Douglas Hicks and Candler School of Theology Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling Gregory Ellison II. 

The third and final phase of the project is tentatively set to launch in the second half of April, in which the committee will present the final plans to University President Gregory Fenves. 

Emory Admissions Building. (The Emory Wheel/Matthew Friedman, contributing writer)

Fenves established the Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations in October 2020 to reckon with Emory’s harmful history against communities of color. 

A year later, Fenves announced the establishment of the Twin Memorials Working Group in response to the task force’s recommendations that April to develop memorials that interconnected the Oxford and Atlanta campuses’ histories. Fenves invited Hicks and Ellison to lead the Twin Memorials group with Oxford Associate Professor of English and American Studies Molly McGehee.

In the first phase of the project, the Twin Memorials Working Group hosted four conversations with Emory community members. Two of these took place on Feb. 3: one with Oxford’s staff and another with descendants of enslaved individuals in Covington, Georgia, just adjacent to the town of Oxford where the University was founded in 1836. There were two other meetings with Oxford students and faculty, including administrators and professors, on Feb. 4. 

Ellison stressed the importance of holding these meetings and getting feedback from the community.

“People are largely unaware of this history,” Ellison said. “The first part of the meeting is to discern how this information is settling on you as you learn about this history, and the ways in which many of the presidents and the trustee members of the earliest days of Emory were slave owners.”

The University will hold two Oxford meetings on Feb. 17, one with students and one with descendents of enslaved individuals.

There will also be two meetings on the Atlanta campus, one with the undergraduate, graduate and professional school community, and one with the Campus Life staff on Feb. 18. Additionally, the University will hold a virtual meeting open to all communities on Feb. 24. 

During phase three, Baskervill will engage in virtual workshops with community members from both campuses to discuss the design of the project. After the workshops, the group will introduce more design concepts to the community. 

The group hopes to introduce a concept to Fenves in early summer, Hicks said, allowing the actual construction process to begin. A construction completion date is not known.

Aside from building the physical memorials, Ellison said the group hopes to establish educational programs. One such program would involve trips for students on both campuses to see the memorials on the other campus and learn their histories during freshman orientation. 

“If you only saw one of the memorials, you would miss a significant part of the story,” Ellison explained. “In that regard, the name Twin Memorials emerged.”

Other goals of the Twin Memorials Working Group include developing plans for continued memorialization of Emory’s enslaved laborers through annual events and programming, and collaborating with stakeholders to develop initiatives that underscore Emory’s past.

“Our goal is not only to focus on the history of the dehumanization of enslaved persons in building Emory,” Hicks said. “We look forward to the future as an educational community that is the most inclusive and equitable place we can be in the present and the future.”

Correction (2/17/2022 at 8:47 p.m.): A previous version of the article stated that the construction of the Twin Memorials is expected to begin over the summer. In fact, a recommendation from the working group on the monuments is expected this summer.

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