October 22, 2010


Emory's history, slavery intertwined

The founding of Emory by Methodists in 1836 was rooted in the contradictory practices of religion and slavery, says a professor who has studied the relationships.

Mark Auslander, a former assistant anthropology professor at Emory at Oxford who teaches at Brandeis University, spoke on "Slavery and Its Legacies at Emory University: Reflections on History and Accountability.”

The Oct. 18 talk was sponsored by the President’s Commission on Race and Ethnicity, which is focusing this year on the topic “Should Emory Apologize for Slavery?”

A group of white Newton County Methodists founded the town of Oxford, Ga., and Oxford College, the site of the original Emory campus. The Methodists also pushed to establish what became the medical school.

Although Northern Methodists condemned slavery, many of their brethren in the South embraced it, said Auslander. In 1850, there were nearly 650 slave owners in the town, according to him.

“There was no question that slavery was part and parcel of the founding of Emory College,” he said. Although the college never owned slaves, records show it rented them, he added.

The development of Oxford would have been impossible without slave labor, Auslander said, and slave descendents contributed greatly to its growth, even though African Americans were barred from admission. Emory was officially desegregated in 1968.

In 2000-01, students from one of Auslander’s classes researched the lives of the slaves and their owners. They spent much of their time in the once-segregated Oxford Cemetery.

“The students were overwhelmed by the histories they were hearing from the leaders of the white community that Emory was a benevolent institution,” Auslander said. “From the African American community, they heard stories of great pain and suffering.”

Auslander is author of "Dreams Deferred: African Americans in the History of old Emory,” a chapter in the new book, “Where Courageous Inquiry Leads: The Emerging Life of Emory University” edited by Emory historians Gary Hauk and Sally Wolff King.

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