Emory University Has Joined the USS Movement

The Universities Studying Slavery (USS) movement, which began here in Charlottesville five years ago, has grown to include seventy-seven schools in five countries. As has been the case for all of the last five years, several other schools are in the process of joining right now. Amazing to think that this all started when the UVA President’s Commission on Slavery and the University (PCSU) pondered an important question–how might we commit to encouraging other schools to do this work? At that time, we were so fortunate to have the expertise of the scholars who had been involved in projects at Brown University, the University of Alabama, The College of William & Mary, and Emory University. Their work on our National Advisory Board in sharing their wisdom profoundly shaped how our projects have unfolded.

We are so glad to have Emory Univerity join the consortium as they commit anew to continued research, acknowledgement, atonement, and even repair.

The Methodist Episcopal Church founded Emory College in 1836 in the small town of Oxford, Georgia. The founders named the town for the school’s prestigious British cousin and named the school for a bishop who dreamed of an American education that molded character as well as the mind. The school struggled for decades, and finally began to prosper in the late 1800s. By 1914, the Methodist Church was looking to create a university in the South, Emory College was looking to expand, and in 1915 relocated its main campus to Atlanta.

The founders and early leaders of Emory were, by and large, supporters of slavery who were influential in bringing about a North-South schism in the Methodist Episcopal Church as the Civil War neared. In an effort to reckon with Emory’s past, in 2011 the executive committee of the Board of Trustees adopted a formal statement of regret over the history of the school’s involvement with slavery.

Efforts to examine and explore Emory’s relationship with slavery included a five-year Ford Foundation-funded initiative known as the Transforming Community Project (TCP) and helped build a new level of understanding of Emory’s complex heritage around race and slavery, dating to antebellum days. Emory also hosted a national scholarly conference entitled “Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies,” which in important ways was a spiritual forebear of the 2014 and 2017 conferences UVA hosted that became the model for the Universities Studying Slavery conferences each year.

In addition, Emory has played a leading role in “Slave Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database” — a digital humanities project that has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship.  The product of decades of collaborative research across many institutions, Slave Voyages now provides resources detailing more than 36,000 slave trading voyages between Africa and the New World, another 11,400 intra-American voyages from one part of the Americas to another, and data on some 92,000 Africans forced to make those journeys.

Currently, Emory’s Department of African American Studies is working to launch a doctoral program that will train a new generation of scholars to advance research on the African diaspora in the Americas — and leaders within the department and elsewhere are developing a proposal for a new center devoted to the study of slavery focused on the investigation, assessment, circulation, teaching, and publication of scholarship about forms of slavery and trafficking—including both historical forms of chattel slavery and contemporary practices of human trafficking and involuntary servitude.

The Department of African American Studies, funded by a Mellon Foundation Just Futures grant, is working with members in the Atlanta community to assess the costs of slavery and its public policy legacies to African Americans and, then, to develop a reparations policy recommendation.

In 2020, President Greg Fenves also announced that the University is actively considering how to memorialize the enslaved persons who contributed to the construction of the original campus, currently the home of Emory’s Oxford College.

Please welcome Emory University to Universities Studying Slavery (USS)!