It began with a reverent discussion of a turn-of-the-century Emory
professors nearly career-destroying efforts to bring racial
justice to the south. It ended with that professors son denouncing
the current U.S. presidential administration, its policies and a
country where racism still lingers.
Professing Justice: A Symposium on the Civil Rights Legacy
of Professor Andrew Sledd, brought together members of the
Emory community as well as off-campus academics to discuss what
moderator Douglas Gragg called one of the darker moments in
Visitors to the Pitts Theology Library, where the April 22 symposium
was held, may already have an idea of Sledds story, which
for many years was lost amid more positive stories of Emorys
history. The exhibit Protesting Racial Violence, which
focuses on Sledd, has been displayed in the Durham Reading Room
In the quest for truth, we are all recovering amnesiacs,
said Mark Auslander, assistant professor of anthropology at Oxford.
He and his students were crucial to the rediscovery of Sledds
legacy and the creation of the exhibit.
Sledd came to Emory in 1898 as a professor of Latin. He was Bishop
Warren Candlers son-in-law, but the two did not always see
eye to eye. The often prickly relationship between Sledd and the
powerful Candler family was a focus of the symposiums keynote
speech, delivered by Terry Matthews, senior pastor at North Carolinas
Mount Zion United Methodist Church and a Sledd scholar.
Matthews also outlined the incident that led Sledd to resign his
professorship at Emory.
In 1902, while riding on a train passing through Covington, the
engineer stopped to allow passengers to view the lynching of a black
man named Sam Hose. Disgusted by the incident and the mutilation
of Hoses body after his death, Sledd wrote an essay, later
published in Atlantic Monthly, denouncing lynching as well as Americans
attitudes on race in both the north and south.
Dad saw a great evil and saw that good, respectable people
tolerated it, said Andrews son James, professor emeritus
of English from the University of Texas at Austin. At the
risk of his career and at the risk of his life, he spoke up.
Matthews described the furor that followed: Manyincluding
then-Emory President James Dickey, 17 members of the Board of Trustees
and several members of the Candler familycalled for Sledds
resignation. He was even burned in effigy in the streets of Covington.
After first considering a fight for his job, Sledd resigned.
The media were told the action was voluntary and caused by
fear of injuring Emory College, said Matthews, who wrote his
doctoral dissertation, Emergence of a Prophet, on Sledd.
Sledd eventually would return to Emory as a theology professor
The symposiums speakers were uniformly laudatory of Sledd.
The prophet is so far out in front of us that it takes us
a long time to catch up to his truth, said Gary Hauk, vice
president and secretary of the University. Hauk touched on the Sledd
affair in his book, A Legacy of Heart and Mind: Emory Since 1836.
The Sledd affair was a jumping-off point to a wider discussion
of racial intolerance by Noel Erskine, associate professor of theology
and ethics in the Candler School of Theology.
Erskine titled his address, Where Do We Go From Here?
a line taken from the title of Martin Luther King Jr.s last
book, and he answered the question with his first sentence.
The next step is emblazoned and embodied in one word: equality,
he said. Quoting liberally from Kings work, Erskine painted
a starkly defined picture of the world African Americans inhabited
prior to the civil rights movement.
Black people were not regarded as human beings, Erskine
said. I suspect that most people would have agreed with Andrew
Sledd if he argued against the lynching of his neighbors dog.
Erskines pointed comments were just an opening act for James
Sledds address. After accepting a framed poetic tribute honoring
his fathers, Sledd stepped to the podium.
Im an old man with a bit of a past and not much of
a future, said the 87-year-old Sledd in a strong voice that
belied his fragile appearance. Therefore, I have nothing to
Sledd then launched into an attack on President George W. Bush,
his policies, the war on terrorism and an American society that
he feels remains based on reactionary ideas of rigid class structure
The current war on terrorism, Sledd said, is one being fought not
for just causes but to secure a worldwide empire for rich,