Dear Editors,

We are Emory University faculty, alumni and students. We write in protest of Emory’s continued celebration of historical figures who were leading figures of racism, slavery, antisemitism and eugenics. President Gregory L. Fenves has claimed to be committed to addressing these shameful elements of Emory’s history but has taken little meaningful action, despite receiving ample advice from alumni, faculty members and a committee that President Fenves himself called into existence.

In fall 2020, President Fenves announced that he was reappointing the University Committee on Naming Honors and charging it with reviewing the University’s celebration of “contested historic names” on the Emory campus. In its report, which was completed in May 2021, the Committee unanimously recommended that Emory remove from campus its tributes to five such historical figures: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, Robert Yerkes, Atticus Greene Haygood, George Foster Pierce and Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. In response, President Fenves chose in June 2021 to remove but one name — that of Longstreet — while promising to “continue to review the research and seek consultation” on the remaining four.

President Fenves has shown little interest, however, in hearing or responding to any such “consultation.” Members of the Emory community have urged the administration to remove two names in particular — those of L.Q.C. Lamar and Robert Yerkes — but President Fenves has not shown that he is even listening — much less taking action.

In July 2021, a coalition of 61 Emory Law School alumni sent President Fenves a letter urging him to remove from the school its tributes to L.Q.C. Lamar, who was no hero of American history but instead an unrepentant white supremacist. Lamar held human beings as slaves, drafted Mississippi’s Ordinance of Secession from the United States, played a leading role in ending Reconstruction after the Civil War, and presided over the implementation of the Dawes Act, which led to the dispossession of about 100 million acres of land owned by Indigenous Americans.

The sentiments in the Emory Law alumni’s letter concerning L.Q.C. Lamar has been echoed by numerous others in the Emory community who have also communicated with President Fenves, including the Black Law Students Association Alumni Board, the Rollins School of Public Health Alumni Board and Professor Barbara Bennet Woodhouse, who holds one of three L.Q.C. Lamar professorships at the Law School. They have all urged Fenves to cease Emory’s tributes to this hateful figure, but Fenves has taken no action in response.

President Fenves has shown similar disinterest in ceasing the University’s celebration of Robert Yerkes, namesake of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Yerkes was a racist, an antisemite, and a founder and leader of the eugenics movement who, even during the Holocaust, praised the Nazis and advocated for killing of people with mental disabilities. A faculty member at Yale and Harvard, he was a central force in the passage of the racist Immigration Act of 1924, which barred millions of Jews from the U.S. in the years before World War II.

Emory Law Professor George Shepherd, one of the signatories of this letter, has written repeatedly to President Fenves and the Emory administration, starting 19 months ago, to ask that Emory stop celebrating Yerkes. Professor Shepherd has provided Fenves with both his op-ed piece in the Wheel about Yerkes along with a law review article that Shepherd published about Yerkes’ sordid career. After the Committee on Naming Honors cited Shepherd’s work in recommending removal of Yerkes’ name, Shepherd wrote again to President Fenves offering to consult with him. Fenves has not responded, despite his promise to “seek consultation” concerning Yerkes and the other names in the Committee’s report.

President Fenves’ silence and inaction are baffling. In his opening remarks at Emory’s “In the Wake of Slavery and Dispossession” symposium last fall, the President called for our community to “explore Emory’s history . . . and examine the ongoing impact of slavery and racism.” Such words ring hollow, however, when the President and the administration fail to remove Emory’s tributes to Lamar, Yerkes, and the other names in the Committee’s report. For months, rumors have circulated around campus that the administration will soon take action on such names, but to date no action has been taken.

We call on President Fenves and the Emory administration to immediately remove from our campus these symbols of oppression and hate. The damage these men did to our country should never be forgotten, but they should no longer be celebrated as heroes at our beloved school.

Sincerely,

Emory Community Members for Historical Accountability

John P. Figura (09L), Brooklyn, NY

Currey Hitchens (09L), Atlanta, GA

George B. Shepherd, Professor of Law, Emory Law School, Atlanta, GA

 

Simran Ahluwalia (19C, 22L)

Silas W. Allard (11L, 11T, 25G)

Shabib Ansari (23L)

Sarah Babcock (07L)

Brandon A. Bullard (07L)

Alexa Christianson (22L)

Simon Cohen (23L)

Rhani Lott Choi (10L)

Kasey Chow (06C, 11B, 11L)

Brent Douglas (09L)

Kaleigh Emerson (10PH)

Jason Esteves (10L)

Niles Friedman (98PH)

Christian Gant (10L)

Hillary Gardner (09L)

Bradford S. Glick (09, 09)

Nina Goodall-Bernal (22L)

Bess Greenberg (19C, 22L) 

Molly Guy (05N, 05PH)

Monica Hanna (09L)

Jay Burhan Haider (01C, 10L)

Nathan A. Hartman, Adjunct Professor of Law, Emory Law School (00C, 06L, 06T, 07B)

Joseph R. Hicks (10L)

Jacqueline Himmelfarb (22L)

Thomas Izzo (09L)

Candace Jackson (09L)

Erica M. Jackson (09L)

Simone Jenkins (10L)

Shijuade Kadree (03Ox, 05C, 09L, 09PH)

Julia Krauss (17B, 17PH)

Anna Kurien (08L)

Samantha Lie Tjauw (14PH)

Daniel Maland (10L)

Sarah Maness (11PH)

Benton Martin (10L)

Monique Martin (12PH)

Alex Ian Passe (24L)

Karyl Patten (08PH, 15L)

Yakob Peterseil (09L)

Leslie A. Powell (09L)

Kier Prince (18L, 18PH)

Kim Ramelow (10L)

Wyatt A. Robinson (10L)

Mark Richardson (09L)

Pamela K. Rosen (10L, 10PH)

Claudia Saari (87L)

Brandon Schecter (09L)

Brian Spielman (09L)

Elizabeth Sprouse (17PH)

Justin Starnes (09L)

Sarah Stein (13L)

Joshua Stern (10L)

Lauren Taylor (11PH, 16A)

Kaytna Thaker (14PH)

Katerina Velanova (22L)

Jared Welsh (09L)

Nathanael Watson (08L)

Stephanie Weathers-Lowin (09L)

Stephen Weyer (00Ox, 02C, 10T, 10L)

Danielle Barbour Wilson (09L9)

Lisa Wolff (11L)

Professor George Shepherd (86L) is from Atlanta, Georgia, and joined the Emory School of Law faculty in 1995. Currey Hitchens (09L) resides in Atlanta, Georgia, and serves low income Georgians in the metro-Atlanta area. She focuses on keeping kids in school and getting needed services in place for students. John P. Figura (09L) lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is an attorney in the public service.