Twin Memorials Working Group gets underway

By Susan Carini | Emory Report | Sept. 23, 2021

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Work has begun to develop memorials that would honor the lives of enslaved individuals who helped build Emory’s original campus and others who have historic ties to the community.

This idea was first reflected in the recommendations of the Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations, which shared its report with President Gregory L. Fenves on April 1.

In a letter to the Emory community on June 28, Fenves announced the creation of the Twin Memorials Working Group, which he charged with implementing a plan for the memorials and associated programming. 

Co-chaired by Douglas Hicks, dean of Oxford College and William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Religion, and Gregory C. Ellison II 99C, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling at Candler School of Theology, the Twin Memorials Working Group is committed to finding inspired ways to articulate and connect the shared histories of the two campuses. 

“This working group brings together faculty, staff, students, administrators and alumni to catalyze the university’s commitment to acknowledge the labor of enslaved persons who built Emory’s original campus,” Hicks says. “We will seek input from the Emory community on the Atlanta and Oxford campuses as well as members of the descendant community. We are energized to honor people who deserve recognition and, more so, to educate current and future generations about Emory’s quest to become an even more equitable and inclusive institution.”

Ellison — who, like Hicks, served on the task force — convened the working group for the first time this week and observes that they think of the group as the “dream team.” More than a playful nod to the U.S. men’s basketball team of the 1996 Olympic Games, the working group spent its first hours sharing dreams for what their work can achieve.

According to Ellison and Hicks, those dreams include telling the fuller story of, and truly honoring, those who will be acknowledged; making the resultant memorials part of the curriculum; establishing even deeper ties between the two campuses; demonstrating that Emory is a welcoming, safe space for area residents and students beyond our walls; helping Emory students have a deeper appreciation of the university’s past; turning deserved attention to current campus workers, especially the hourly staff; and not only creating this as a living memorial but enjoying to the fullest the shared experience of doing so together.

By taking advantage of relevant scholarship, learning more about similar initiatives at peer institutions and building on the aims stated in the task force report, the Twin Memorials Working Group will draft requests-for-proposal for architectural firms to design and construct the twin memorials.

In addition, the group will develop plans for annual events, university-wide programming and orientation for new students — all designed not only to memorialize enslaved laborers and their descendants but also to recognize those who continued to work on both campuses following emancipation.

A key part of the working group’s ambitious agenda is coordinating community input to ensure that what is created, both for the memorials themselves and the related programming, reflects the diverse stakeholders who will engage with it.

“We look forward to presenting the stories and legacy of these individuals who are so central to our history,” Ellison says. “Our job is to dream together and to gather the collective dreams of our community — and that means not just Emory but the larger metro Atlanta community. Once the memorials are established, we are eager for our own community, as well as visitors to our Atlanta and Oxford campuses, to learn more not just about Emory but about themselves.”