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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Civil rights at Emory: A tour

Hannah Frankel 12C and I decided to take Emory’s Civil Rights’ Tour on a lovely, HOT afternoon in early July. The tour is part of the newly released Sustainability Map launched by the Office of Sustainability Initiatives this past May.

We began the tour at the Haygood-Hopkins gate and then headed toward Glenn Memorial Auditorium. Soaking in the cool air-conditioning and reading the tour's description regarding Emory’s religious roots, I reflected how I often don't associate Methodist leaders with conflicts regarding slavery. The tour was yet another reminder that slavery permeated all aspects of society during this important time in American history.

On the way to our next stop, Hannah and I discussed the interesting differences in the way Civil War history is taught in various parts of the country today, noting many regional differences and unresolved issues that still exist. One of the things I loved most about Emory was the opportunity to meet students from all parts of the country, as well as the world, and learn about their background. I always found both similarities and differences in comparison to my own.

When we arrived at our next stop, Pitts Theology Library, we were again relieved to escape the 90 degree heat. We introduced ourselves to the students working at the front desk and used the opportunity as an excuse to promote the map.

In addition to its historical connection to the 1969 Black Student Alliance protest which led to the formation of the Department of African American Studies, Pitts is a sometimes undiscovered study sanctuary. It’s interesting looking back to imagine the juxtaposition of a sit-in protest in this calm, serene space.

The next stop on the tour was all too familiar to me, but in a good way. Being a former history major it is easy to remain fond of the classic Quad landmark that is Bowden Hall. I have many memories of classes held in its dimly lit rooms, chatting with the friendly administrative assistant in the history department and waiting nervously outside the door for an appointment with my thesis adviser.

Yet, despite a large plaque hanging at the entrance of the building, I was unaware as an undergraduate of the important connection between Henry Bowden 32C 34L, the building’s namesake, and the historic Supreme Court of Georgia decision that led to the enrollment of Emory's first black students.

The last two stops on the tour went by quickly, a trip to the top of Woodruff Library for the amazing balcony view of the campus and the surrounding city, followed by the Dooley Statue with its provoking insight about the Spirit of Emory’s complex past.

Heading back toward Emory Village, I felt grateful for the pleasant break from my usual work day, but still craved more history, more stories of Emory's civil rights history. I guess my next visit will have to be to Manuscript and Rare Books Library (MARBL) to look at Emory’s rich civil rights collections.

-- Jessica Levy 08C, intern, Office of Sustainability Initiatives

Photo by Cassandra Young 07C

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