A reception on Friday at Emory University to celebrate the work of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the years after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could have been more poorly timed, but not by much.
All week long, the president of Emory, James W. Wagner, had been trying to control the damage done by a column he wrote for the university magazine. In it, he praised the 1787 three-fifths compromise, which allowed each slave to be counted as three-fifths of a person in determining how much Congressional power the Southern states would have, as an example of how polarized people could find common ground.
It was, he has since said, a clumsy and regrettable mistake.
A faculty group censured him last week for the remarks. And in a speech at Friday’s reception for the campus exhibition, “And the Struggle Continues: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Fight for Social Change,” Dr. Wagner acknowledged both the nation’s continuing education in race relations and his own.