Emory dedicated Longstreet-Means Hall in 1955, during a time of phenomenal growth of the campus and the student body, and one year after women had been admitted as residential students of Emory College.
The previous year also had brought the US Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education, which prompted “massive resistance” against integration in the South. Throughout the South in the 1950s, schools, buildings, streets, and highways were named for Confederate leaders, ostensibly to honor Southern “heritage,” but implicitly to resist federal mandates for integration. For instance, the University of Texas in 1955 dedicated a dormitory in honor of William Stewart Simkins, who had taught at the UT law school for thirty years but also had founded a branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida. (In 2010 UT removed his name from the dormitory.) In 1956, one year after the dedication of Longstreet-Means, the Georgia legislature changed the design of the state flag to incorporate the Confederate battle emblem.
At Emory, according to historian Melissa F. Kean, the response to Brown was generally positive. Editorials and “person-on-the-street” interviews in the student newspaper suggested widespread belief that the Supreme Court had gotten it right, and the Emory Alumnus editor, Randy Fort, wrote favorably about integration while noting legal hurdles. Fort pointed hopefully to Emory’s relationship to the Methodist Church, whose 1952 Book of Discipline said, “There is no place in the Methodist Church for racial discrimination or racial segregation.” Nevertheless, the board of Emory was not in a hurry to integrate and was led by a chairman, Charles Howard Candler Sr., who was staunchly “traditional” in racial matters.
No evidence suggests that the Emory trustees were motivated by resistance to civil rights in naming two new dormitories for presidents A. B. Longstreet and Alexander Means. The resolution passed by the Executive Committee on January 20, 1955, refers to Longstreet as “a widely known writer and minister who was President of Emory College at Oxford from 1840 to 1948” and refers to Means as “a minister and perhaps best known for his research in the field of electricity, who was President of Emory College from 1854 to 1855.” No mention is made of their owning slaves or their role in the division of the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery. Still, the timing is striking.
Three years after the opening of Longstreet-Means, the university built Thomas, Hopkins, and Smith Halls (“The Complex”), named for one Emory president (James Thomas) who served before and after the Civil War and for two (Isaac Hopkins and Luther M. Smith) who served after the war. Together with Longstreet-Means, these halls served as a way of connecting the Druid Hills campus to the historic Oxford home of Emory. Similarly, names of streets on the Druid Hills campus—Pierce Drive, Dowman Drive, Dickey Drive—honor Emory presidents who served while the College was in Oxford.
The current Longstreet-Means Hall was dedicated in 2010. Its name, like that of Turman Hall, was intended to tap into the nostalgia of alumni who had lived in the original halls bearing those names for many decades.
Longstreet himself remains a very human figure, deeply flawed according to our lights, yet also grandly generous to the institution he helped put on a sound footing, compassionate in caring for yellow fever victims during an epidemic at risk to his own life, and oddly willing to break the law for the benefit of slaves, as he apparently taught his slaves to read, in violation of state prohibitions.
Whatever his name signals to our generation, Emory students should know something about this complicated figure in their alma mater’s history.