‘We Can Weather the Storm’

Like so many other members of the Emory family, this has been a difficult time and I feel the personal pain of Jim Wagner, who I consider a friend, as I feel the collective pain of a community thrown into an unwelcome public crisis. To be sure, I have had a number of opportunities as I have traveled around the country, to address this situation. I have steadfastly defended Jim as a man of integrity and courage, who passionately believes in the obligation of open, honest discourse especially in the university community.

I feel I have a very good sense of the heart and spirit of this man, and I staunchly rebuff any intimations of Jim as a racist or any accusations of his purposeful construction of university policies that support racist leanings. This is one of those cases where I am more inclined to let my judgment be determined by the content of the full movie as opposed to the impact of a snapshot.

In this particular matter, I defend Jim, but cannot defend what he said. The assignment of noble purpose or motivation to a dreadful decision like the 3/5ths compromise simply ignores the deep-rooted core of racist thinking and discounting of the humanity of African human beings by the nation’s founders, feelings and attitudes whose legacy have plagued social, political, religious, and economic deliberations throughout the whole of our nation’s history. I believe Jim simply made a dreadful mistake. I do not believe it to represent some vein of malice or some subliminal racist streak that found “true” expression in his essay.

I have not personally taken him to task because he has heard in a resounding fashion just how unacceptable this view is among persons who have had to live under the burden of its sorry legacy. I believe his apology is sincere and while he has suffered a wound, it is not a death blow. I am still confident in the redeeming power of forgiveness and reconciliation, and I am still convinced that Emory has a leader from whom we can expect even more greatness in the years to come.  My hope is that this will invite more, not less openness of discourse, even around smelly, unpleasant issues that will invariably arise in the course of an engaged community trying to navigate through complex historical and current issues. We have survived worse, and I am quite confident that we can weather this storm with courage and integrity.

James R. Gavin III 70 PhD
CEO and Chief Medical Officer
Healing Our Village Inc.
Former president, Morehouse School of Medicine
Emory University Trustee