The Racial Integration of Emory University: Ben F. Johnson, Jr., and the Humanity of Law
65 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2007
Date Written: August 15, 2007
This article describes the racial integration of Emory University and the subsequent creation of Pre-Start, an affirmative action program at Emory Law School from 1966 to 1972. It focuses on the initiative of the Dean of Emory Law School at the time, Ben F. Johnson, Jr. (1914-2006). Johnson played a number of leadership roles throughout his life, including successfully arguing a case before the United States Supreme Court while he was an Assistant Attorney General of Georgia, promoting legislation to create Atlanta's subway system as a state senator, and representing Emory in its lawsuit to strike down the state statute that would have rescinded its tax exemption if it admitted African American students (Emory v. Nash, 218 Ga. 317 (Ga. 1962)). This account supplements my related article on Pre-Start, "'A Bulwark against Anarchy': Affirmative Action, Emory Law School, and Southern Self-Help" (SSRN abstract 1007006), providing more information about historical context generally, and particularly about Emory v. Nash. Johnson was ambitious for Emory as a whole, and particularly for the Law School, and he saw in segregation the single largest impediment to making Emory a nationally prominent research university. The story of Emory's integration, and Johnson's leadership, requires revision of the prevailing story of integration generally, and especially of universities. Integration at Emory came about because of the pressure that African Americans and their supporters created through the civil rights movement, but Emory administrators responded to such pressure more constructively than most (e.g., Universities of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Vanderbilt). Their actions provide an interesting case study in effective leadership during a period of significant moral and political conflict.
Keywords: race, african americans, integration, segregation, Emory University, Emory Law School, Ben F. Johnson, Pre-Start, affirmative action, Henry L. Bowden, legal history
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