Dear Emory Community,
Since joining Emory in 2020, I’ve engaged in many discussions about the history of our university. Our knowledge of who we are as an institution comes from questioning and learning. Each generation brings new meaning to a narrative that is continually being evaluated and written.
Last spring, I received a report from Emory’s Committee on Naming Honors that analyzed the legacies of individuals whose names are honorifically recognized in spaces across our campuses. I convened the committee—comprising faculty, staff, alumni, and students—with the goal of deepening our understanding of the lives of those we celebrate at Emory. I am grateful for the time and effort they put into their work under the leadership of Professor Fred Smith Jr. from the Emory School of Law.
Based on the committee’s research, I made the decision last summer to change honorific names associated with Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, president of Emory College from 1839 to 1848, who used his leadership position at Emory to advocate for slavery. I also enthusiastically agreed with the committee’s recommendation to name a historic building at Oxford College for Emory alumnus and trailblazing judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. in recognition of his immense service to the greater Atlanta and Newton County communities.
Today, I write to announce additional decisions about the names reviewed by the Committee on Naming Honors.
Emory’s primate research center is named for Robert Yerkes, its first director, who, as a professor at Yale University, was an influential psychologist and early primatologist. The Committee on Naming Honors recommended that the center be renamed based on Yerkes’ vigorous support for eugenics through his writings and speeches. This semester, I asked the Yerkes Center leadership to convene a group of faculty and staff to provide recommendations. Consequently, I have decided to change the name of the center to the Emory National Primate Research Center. The Emory Board of Trustees has approved changes to the names of the buildings, grounds, and related signage to reflect the new name.
Two professorships at the School of Law and an emeritus professorship are named in honor of L.Q.C. Lamar, an Emory graduate who served as an officer for the Confederacy and was a congressional representative, senator, and associate Supreme Court justice. Lamar was a staunch defender of slavery who wrote Mississippi’s Articles of Secession. The Committee on Naming Honors recommended that Emory remove all honorific namings associated with Lamar, and I agree. Moving forward, the Lamar professorships will be known as the Emory School of Law Distinguished Professors.
Atticus Greene Haygood was an Emory president who made tremendous contributions in elevating Emory during its early years, and his name appears honorifically at Oxford College and on the main entrance gate to our Atlanta campus. Haygood was a chaplain for the Confederate Army, but after the Civil War, he helped found Paine College, an HBCU in Augusta, Georgia, and he supported the development of schools and colleges for African Americans. In later years, Haygood denounced slavery and dedicated himself to service that benefitted African American communities in the South. Because of his early support for slavery, the Committee on Naming Honors recommended that Emory remove all honorific namings associated with Haygood. After much thought, review, and consultation surrounding Haygood’s legacy, I have decided not to accept the committee’s recommendation. The Haygood name will remain in place at Emory.
Finally, George Foster Pierce, a Methodist bishop, was an Emory president during the mid-1800s who made contributions to the advancement of education, particularly for women, in Georgia. Because of Pierce’s longstanding defense of slavery, the Committee on Naming Honors recommended the Pierce name be removed from Emory. Pierce currently appears in a variety of spaces and manifestations on the Oxford campus and also in Atlanta, including program, building, and street names. I am continuing to review and consider a final decision on the George Foster Pierce name at Emory.
For all of the honorific names associated with our university, it is very important that historical information be made available for all to see and learn from. Emory Libraries has developed a contextualization guide for the names that were reviewed by the Committee on Naming Honors to provide additional information.
I know that many at Emory have been deeply interested in these decisions and I want to thank everyone who shared their thoughts and provided feedback. We will continue to explore our past with fresh perspective—strengthening understanding and shedding light on untold stories.