Robin Thomas, who graduated from Emory College with highest honors in Italian studies in 1999 and now teaches art history at Penn State, sent me news that Marion Luther Brittain’s house is being demolished in Midtown Atlanta to make way for an office tower, hotel, and residences.
Brittain (1866–1953) was one of the 175 “makers of Emory history” celebrated during the University’s 175th anniversary observance in 2011. An 1886 graduate of Emory College, he served as state school superintendent from 1910 until his appointment in 1922 as the fourth president of Georgia Tech, from which he retired in 1944. (He was the second Emory alumnus to serve as president of Tech; Isaac Hopkins, Class of 1859, left the Emory presidency in 1888 to become Tech’s first president.) In 1942, Brittain donated funds to Emory to create the highest student award for “recognition of unselfish service to the University,” an award named for him.
Brittain lived in this house with his family between 1911, when it was built, and 1922, when he moved into Georgia Tech’s presidential home.
The impressive columned façade gives entrée to a spacious interior, which was divided into four apartments after the Brittains moved out.
It’s sad to see another old, historic home disappear from Atlanta’s inventory. Happily, plans are underway to restore, rather than demolish, another home on the National Register—Buddie Candler’s Briarcliff mansion, owned by Emory.
Emory colleagues Kathryn Dixson and Gretchen Warner have a gift for making material from the archives more eye-catching than a Macy’s store window on 34th Street. They design and mount exhibits in Emory’s Rose Library and Schatten Gallery, and for the last couple of years they have graciously added to their work the display case on the first floor of the Administration Building.
Two weeks ago, in time for the holidays, Kathy and Gretchen created a display of the beautiful Christmas cards that Emory philanthropist Robert Woodruff used to send. In case you can’t get to the Administration Building, I share parts of the display here. The photos and cards are from the Robert W. Woodruff collection in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
Beginning in 1924, the year after Woodruff became president of the Coca-Cola Company, he and his wife, Nell Hodgson Woodruff, sent annual Christmas cards.
Initially graced with holiday images, the cards soon featured photos of Ichauway, the South Georgia plantation the Woodruffs bought in 1929 as a vacation refuge and bird-hunting retreat.
In 1941, however, the Woodruffs began a new and magnificent holiday tradition featuring the commissioned paintings of Ichauway’s birds by Italian-born artist Athos Menaboni. By the time of Robert Woodruff’s death, in 1985, Menaboni’s paintings would grace the front of 44 Woodruff Christmas cards. A number of reproductions of these paintings are housed along with Menaboni’s papers in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory. The cards themselves are among the Robert W. Woodruff papers in the Rose Library.
The card for 1968 bore only Robert’s name on the inside. His beloved Nell had died in January of that year, less than a year after Emory named its school of nursing in her honor. The couple of green-winged teal shown in the card poignantly suggest the long flight of life that Robert and Nell had shared, for more than 55 years.
The last Woodruff/Menaboni card appeared in 1984, featuring the great blue heron.
Woodruff died on March 7, 1985, and Menaboni lived another five years, dying on July 18, 1990, at the age of 94.
In the spirit of beauty and grace reflected in the Menaboni cards sent by the Woodruffs, I take the occasion to wish you a merry Christmas and a peaceful, happy new year.
On December 17 the New York Times carried news of the death of Lawrence Colburn. He was one of three men who stopped the massacre of civilians at My Lai on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War. Horrific in scale and shocking in its violation of American values, international law, and basic humanity, the massacre stunned the nation when it came to light. Yet the massacre might have been far worse, but for the heroism of helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson, gunner Larry Colburn, and crew chief Glenn Andreotta.
Charged with using his helicopter to draw enemy fire away from US troops on the ground, Thompson soon realized that the only shooting was being done by Americans, and that something was terribly wrong. He landed his chopper between the troops and helpless civilians, and together he, Colburn, and Andreotta risked their own lives in the face of what can only be described as lunacy and evil.
Thirty-four years later, Emory professor David Blumenthal, the Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies, nominated Thompson and Colburn to receive honorary degrees from the University (Andreotta, the third member of the helicopter crew, had been killed in action three weeks after My Lai). Professor Blumenthal has long been an advocate for recognizing those who stand, courageously and sometimes alone, against tall odds in the face of oppression, barbarity, and the trampling of humanity. On May 13, 2002, Thompson and Colburn received the Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa, while the citation below was read.
The President, Trustees, and Faculty of Emory University
take pleasure in honoring
HUGH THOMPSON and LAWRENCE COLBURN
Heroes and Healers of the Wounds of War:
On a beautiful March morning in 1968,
ordinary people much like us committed unspeakable evil,
but you and your fellow crew member, Glenn Andreotta—
also ordinary people much like us—
transcended fear and chaos to save the lives of the innocents,
and thereby to rescue honor and right and
hope for the human capacity to choose the good.
From among the bodies lying dead in a ditch,
you lifted up a living child, whom now, in his adulthood,
you continue to help toward a fuller, happier existence.
From the cinders of the burning village
and the ruins of the blood-soaked streets,
you lifted up a reminder for us, in a violent and savage world,
that some things are worth risking death for,
many fewer are worth killing for,
and blessed is the heart that knows the difference.
Today we are honored to confer on you
the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Rest in peace, valiant soldier, defender of our humanity. And may the rest of us ordinary people—much like you—rise to the occasion when the defense of humanity calls us.
“In 1836, when the Cherokee nation still clung to its ancestral lands in the State of Georgia, and Atlanta itself had yet to be born a year later as the town of Terminus, a small band of Methodists in Newton County dedicated themselves to founding a new town and college. They would call the town Oxford. It was a name of high aspiration, linking their little frontier enterprise with the university attended by the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. The college they would call Emory, after an American Methodist bishop who had inspired them by his broad vision for what education in America might be. The year before had seen, in France, the appearance of the first part of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. It was Tocqueville’s insight that the American democratic experience rested on the voluntary association, [citizens] coming together in pursuit of the common good, and nothing symbolized his insight better than that company of college founders as they made their plans in the humming Georgia woods.”
—from A Legacy of Heart and Mind: Emory Since 1836
One hundred and eighty years to the day since the Georgia Assembly granted a charter to the college on December 10, 1836, Emory University bears as little physical resemblance to its fledgling ancestor as Atlanta does to Terminus. Yet the ideals that motivated the founders still sound in the voices of students, the lectures and seminar discussions led by faculty members, and the daily fulfillment of responsibilities by staff members and administrators–hope for a better future, convictions about the importance of individuals, and the belief that our sometimes wise and sometimes foolish hearts still have the possibility of nurturing knowledge in the hearts and minds of a new generation.
See the “Emory History Minute” about Emory’s original 1836 charter here, number 28 on the menu in the upper left.
My article about the Atlanta Music Festival appeared today in the online “Saporta Report,” and I thought I’d share it here for those who don’t subscribe to Maria Saporta’s excellent newsletter.
It’s a little-known secret that while Atlanta may have been “the city too busy to hate,” it has also been, for more than a century, a city too cultured to divide. The people have come together for art and music, theater and dance, just as much as for any baseball game or gridiron rivalry. The arts have brought together Atlantans from every neighborhood who otherwise might have little occasion to gather.
One instance of this phenomenon will be on display for the umpteenth time on November 18, when the historic Atlanta Music Festival mounts its concluding gala concert at Glenn Memorial Auditorium on the Emory University campus.
Born out of chaos and violence, the festival harks back to 1910, when a black minister drew from his background in classical music to create a bridge between music-loving black and white communities. Although it persisted for just eight years, the Atlanta Colored Music Festival, as it was called, made way for healing in the wake of the devastating 1906 Atlanta race riot. The interracial collaborations forged then through music would bear fruit decades later.
Reviving this tradition in 2001, black minister, musician, and professor Dwight Andrews and white church music director Steven Darsey have fostered a vision of the arts as an engine for interracial understanding and social transformation. The Nobel Prize Committee this year may have recognized the power of Bob Dylan to speak for a generation. But no less powerful, though often unheralded, is the more subtle impact from exposure to different artistic and musical traditions. Somehow under the dance steps, behind the stage scenes, over the floating musical notes, in front of the canvas is born a shared experience that gives people of every variety a common experience to begin a conversation.
Something unique sets the Atlanta Music Festival apart. At other, one-off cultural events, audiences show up, enjoy, then leave. But the Atlanta Music Festival is making a long-term investment in Atlanta’s children and a vision for a community of the future. According to the festival’s website, the festival supports the Atlanta Music Festival Conservatory, a collaboration among the festival, Emory University’s Graduation Generation program, and historic First Congregational Church.
Offering a free after-school program and a free two-week summer camp, the conservatory teaches students in fourth to sixth grades to play instruments, study music theory, and receive instruction not available to them otherwise. The students hail from metro Atlanta area schools and community programs.
As Andrews, a professor at Emory, has put it, “With an ear to voices that have not been heard, [we] are striving to create a musical world of reconciliation and empowerment. We are making an investment, anticipating a return that will shape the American musical and cultural landscape of the future.”
The list of those supporting the festival tells some of the story of this investment—Georgia Humanities, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, WABE-FM, Woodward Academy, and the Atlanta Community Foundation are some of those who have made major contributions. All have a commitment to preserving and nurturing what the Georgia Humanities tagline calls “the stories that make us and move us.” As Atlantans, as Georgians, as Americans, we are shaped by the arts because they tell us where we have been, who we are, and what we might yet be.
The week-long festival, from November 14 to 18, includes a panel discussion that will ask leading artists and writers to consider the ways communities shape their work and, in turn, how their communities are changed by their art. What is the artist’s responsibility to society, and society’s appropriate commitment to art? The panelists will include Fahamu Pecou, creator of MARTA’s new murals; well-known actress Brenda Bynum; ethicist and photographer Carlton Mackey; and Pulitzer Prize–winning Atlanta native Taylor Branch.
As it did in 2011, the festival will reprise the historic 1900 premiere of the resonant “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” At its first performance, the song’s lyricist, James Weldon Johnson, and his brother, composer Rosamond Johnson, enlisted the voices of 500 school children in Jacksonville, Florida, to welcome their school’s honored guest, Booker T. Washington, on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. In 2011, more than 600 Atlanta-area schoolchildren performed the song during a morning symposium at Atlanta Symphony Hall. This year the performance, hosted by Brenda Wood, will take place at Ebenezer Baptist Church on November 16, at noon.
The festival’s concluding gala concert features a work commissioned specifically for the occasion. The renowned composer Adolphus Hailstork has written a choral piece inspired by President Obama’s speech “A More Perfect Union.” That was the speech in which Obama resoundingly called upon both African American and white communities to embrace a more complete vision of America’s promise.
The galaxy of starring musicians will be led by Georgia native Jessye Norman and Atlanta’s own Timothy Miller as soloists, the Vega Quartet, the Morehouse and Spelman Colleges glee clubs, and the Governor’s Award–winning Meridian Chorale.
As our society continues to look for ways to straddle our differences, reconcile the past to the present, and chart a hopeful path forward, the Atlanta Music Festival offers one proposal for how the arts might lead the way.
Gary Hauk is university historian and senior adviser to the president at Emory University and a member of the Georgia Humanities board of directors.
Every campus should have its ghosts, or at least its ghost stories, and Emory does. Some students claim to have “felt” the spirit of President Atticus Haygood in Old Church at Oxford. One former staff member of the alumni association tells a hair-raising story of encountering a man in an old-fashioned suit and a bowler hat while working on the second floor of the Houston Mill House—a man there one moment and gone the next. And heaven (or hell!) only knows what goes on at the Briarcliff mansion, but check it out here.
The best Emory ghost story surely comes from Mike Wilhoit, who 45 years ago was working late at night in the Tufts House (formerly Uppergate House), when he encountered a woman who couldn’t have been there but was–and then wasn’t.
For those in search of more mundane encounters with “spirits” from the past, two cemeteries at Emory beckon. One is on the Oxford campus and harbors the graves of Confederate soldiers who died while being cared for in Oxford after the Battle of Atlanta.
A second cemetery lies tucked away, half-hidden, on the Clairmont Campus in Atlanta. Shuttle-bus riders and pedestrians, as well as parents picking up children at the Clifton Childcare Center, often pass by without realizing that some fifty bodies lie buried nearby.
Richard Houston Sams, Emory College Class of 1957, has written the fullest history of this hallowed ground, and he has good reason for his interest in it—some of his ancestors are buried there.
The earliest grave is that of Rody Harriet Hardman, just a year and a half old when she died in 1825. She was the daughter of John Hardman, who was laid to rest near her more than half a century later.
Not far from the Hardman plot lie Dr. Chapmon Powell and his wife, Elizabeth Hardman Powell, parents of Amanda Powell. In 1854 Amanda married Washington Jackson Houston–the builder of Houston Mill and great-grandfather of Richard Sams.
Somewhat farther away, near the edge of the cemetery, lie the foundation stones on which, sometime around 1830, Naman Hardman built a church known as the Primitive Baptist Church in Christ at Hardman’s. This building, according to Sams, was still standing when a wing of General Sherman’s army marched down the Shallowford Trail–now Clairmont Road–toward Decatur in July 1864. Sams says the structure was left in ashes by the time the army left.
Much more history haunts these two acres, which are owned not by Emory but by the DeKalb Historical Society. The spirits inhabiting the place include the land’s original inhabitants, the Creek Indians, who lived along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek, near where the VA Hospital stands on Clairmont Road. Meanwhile, this quiet corner tucked between a parking deck and apartment building D offers tranquility for visitors on a balmy autumn afternoon.
Clyde Partin Jr. tells the story of how a piece of Atlanta and Emory history was discovered beside a dumpster on the Emory campus fifteen years ago. Clyde is a graduate of Emory College and Emory School of Medicine and the son of the legendary long-time Emory athletics director and coach, the late “Doc” Partin. As Clyde tells it, his parents were walking to Emory’s baseball field at Chappell Park one fall day in 2001, when they came upon “a monolithic piece of granite, like a huge tombstone, lying next to the dumpster.” (He and John Stone relate the story in Atlanta Medicine, Volume 77, Issue 2 (2003), pp. 12-16.)
The elder Partins contacted Clyde Jr., whose investigation determined quickly that this was the cornerstone of the old building of the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons, a precursor to the Emory School of Medicine. The ACPS itself had been formed in 1898 from the merger of two other medical schools, both of which traced their lineage to Atlanta’s first medical school, the Atlanta Medical College. (Emory’s fourth president, Alexander Means, taught briefly at the Atlanta Medical College in the 1850s.) After several splits and mergers, in 1906 the ACPS moved into new quarters at the corner of Armstrong and Butler streets—now Armstrong Street and Jesse Hill Jr. Drive—across from Grady Memorial Hospital.
By the 1960s the building needed to be replaced, so down came the five-decade-old structure—its piecemeal deconstruction recorded in photographs.
Soon the cornerstone itself was detached from the wall surrounding it, and a cavity at the top of the stone was uncovered. In that cavity was a metal box
With Emory dignitaries on hand, including the board chair, the university president, and the dean of the medical school, the “time capsule” was retrieved and opened.
The contents of the box appear to have been just whatever was at hand on the day the cornerstone was laid—no profound messages from one generation to a later one, no poetry or spiritual wisdom, no valuable treasures or cultural secrets to be passed along to an inquisitive bunch of archaeologists. Just a daily paper with news of the moment, a physician’s empty stationery envelope, and sundry odds and ends.
What happened to the cornerstone after its removal from the site in 1961 is anyone’s guess, and as Clyde notes, how it came to rest by the side of that dumpster is still more of a mystery. It now graces the plaza of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Administration Building.
Emory medical faculty members still play their teaching and medical arts on the site of the old Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons, in the building that replaced the 1906 structure.