Confronting 1950s anti-Jewish discrimination at Emory Dental

Emory President James Wagner with Perry Brickman at the Oct. 10, 2012 event In 1952, Perry Brickman received a letter following his fir...

Emory President James Wagner with Perry Brickman at the Oct. 10, 2012 event

In 1952, Perry Brickman received a letter following his first year of dental school at Emory University, informing him that he had flunked out — though nobody had ever said anything negative about his academic performance previously.

Last October, he stood on stage at Emory as James Wagner, president of Emory, apologized to him and other Jewish students who were kicked out during a culture of anti-Semitism at the dental school.

“As president of Emory University, I hereby express in the deepest, strongest terms Emory’s regret for the anti-Semitic practices of the dental school during those years,” Wagner said. “We at Emory also regret that it has taken this long for those events to be properly acknowledged. I am sorry; we are sorry.”

Brickman will be in Birmingham to speak at Temple Beth-El on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. His visit is presented by Beth-El, the Beth-El Men’s Club and the Levite Jewish Community Center, with support from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, Birmingham Jewish Foundation, Community Youth Group, Hadassah, Knesseth Israel, Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood and the Birmingham Chapter of the Emory Alumni Association

He recently produced a documentary, “From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory’s Dental School History,”which will be screened at the program and followed by a discussion.

Under Dean John Buhler, roughly 65 percent of Jewish students were flunked out or had to repeat courses, a much higher proportion than previously.

There was also a quota of four Jewish students per class. In Brickman’s class, all four were gone within two years. Buhler was dean from 1948 to 1961.

The affected students kept quiet and went on to other institutions. Brickman commented, “It was almost like being a rape victim. No one believed us.”

Then, Brickman attended an exhibition in 2006 that celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Jewish studies department — and was surprised to find a panel mentioning systematic anti-Semitism in the dental school in the 1950s.

Two years later he heard from a classmate he hadn’t spoken to in 55 years, who told him that he still was pained over their treatment. Brickman decided it was time to document the story.

Following the Oct. 10, 2012 screening, Wagner issued the apology. He also had a private meeting with over 30 of those who had been expelled half a century earlier.

Buhler resigned from Emory after being accused of discrimination against Jewish students. In 1964 he was appointed dean of the Medical University of South Carolina College of Dental Medicine, sparking protests from the Jewish community there. At the time, the South Carolina board president said the Emory situation “was not as serious as it had been painted.” The then-president of Emory, S. Walter Martin, went even further, saying the charges were false and Buhler’s resignation was voluntary.

Indiana University’s School of Dentistry named him alumnus of the year in 1965, and he resigned from Medical University of South Carolina in 1971 due to health reasons.

Southern Jewish Life: Confronting 1950s anti-Jewish discrimination at Emory Dental
Confronting 1950s anti-Jewish discrimination at Emory Dental
Southern Jewish Life
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