Atlanta dentist Perry Brickman was 74 when in 2006 he first began what would become an obsessive quest to uncover the history of anti-Semitism at the Emory University Dental School in the 1950s.
His journey of discovery took 13 years of research through old and often obscure records, but what he found was documentation of how the dean of the school had purposely ended the careers of Jewish dental school students between 1948 and 1961. Emory was slow to acknowledge the problem, but eventually forced the dean to resign and pressured the Jewish community in Atlanta to keep the matter quiet.
Tracking down the records and interviewing some important players in what had become a long-forgotten drama was not an easy task. But what was often more difficult was to persuade the students, who had been the object of discrimination, to talk.
“Extracted,” the title of Perry Brickman’s book, might also be a good way to describe how he had to deal with the silence that greeted his efforts to get the old students to speak out and to finally accept that they hadn’t really failed academically.
“The dental students who had been flunked out couldn’t talk about it, until, in fact, when I approached them,” he told me recently. “It was the shame, for sure, and the fear of how their family and friends would react.”
But Brickman’s quest was ultimately successful. In 2012, Emory issued a public apology for the wrongs of the past and later honored Brickman with its highest award for service to the school.
This book is an important testament to the healing power that results when the fearful silence of the past is broken, and truth, no matter how painful, is faced fully and honestly.
The book will be featured at noon Nov. 6 in conversation with Gail Evans, former executive vice president of CNN and a bestselling author. The event includes a reception sponsored by the AJT.