Mayor Girtz issues proclamation of recognition and apology for urban renewal

Yesterday, Mayor Kelly Girtz issued a proclamation of recognition and “deep and sincere … apology” for Athenians displaced during the “urban renewal” period of the 1960s.

Specifically, Girtz apologized for the creation of two urban renewal districts, one centered on Baxter street and the other on College avenue, which displaced hundreds of Black Athenians and resulted in the “loss of generational wealth” and community disruption.

Hattie Whitehead and Geneva Johnson, former residents of Linnentown

Girtz says he was urged to issue this statement by Hattie Whitehead, a former resident of Linnentown who was displaced when her neighborhood was destroyed to make way for the UGA dorms on Baxter street.

Whitehead, together with Geneva Johnson and other former residents of Linnentown, have been pushing for recognition of the wrong done to them for years. This effort has culminated in the Linnentown Resolution which will come before the commission for a vote on February 16.

The current proclamation is a general apology for urban renewal across Athens to go along with the Linnentown Resolution which focuses on one neighborhood specifically.

You can read the full text of Mayor Girtz’s proclamation below, which also includes a promise that the current redevelopment of College avenue, called the North Downtown Athens Project, will not permanently displace any current residents.

Proclamation of Apology in Recognition of Athenians Displaced by Urban Renewal Projects

WHEREAS, the former City of Athens entered into agreements with the United States Government in the 1960s to create two Urban Renewal districts, centered respectively on Baxter Street and College Avenue; and

WHEREAS, these two districts featured several hundred residents who were displaced during the decade that followed; and

WHEREAS, despite the intent and expression of “progress” provided at the time, this displacement resulted in the loss of generational wealth, particularly for Black Athenians; and

WHEREAS, social connections, proximity to family, work, leisure education, and entertainment were all lost or diminished by this displacement; and

WHEREAS, Athenians and the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County are together working toward recognition and remedy for past injustices; and

WHEREAS, this includes the present Linnentown Memory and Justice Committee and will expand to include recognition of other neighborhoods that have been lost; and

WHEREAS, the College Avenue area is again under redevelopment with the explicit intent to utilize a more welcoming and engaging process and an outcome that permanently displaces no current residents;

NOW, THEREFORE, the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County extends to former residents of Athens’ Urban Renewal districts, their descendants, and to all Athenians a deep and sincere expression of apology and regret for the pain and loss stemming from this time, and a sincere commitment to work toward better outcomes in all we do moving forward.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of Athens-Clarke County to be affixed this 2nd day of February 2021.

____________________________

Mayor Kelly Girtz
Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County

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