A public art and education project calling attention to an act of “white racism and terrorism” perpetrated by the city of Athens and the University of Georgia in the 1960s is moving forward with or without UGA’s participation. This project, called the Linnentown Walk of Recognition, will be located on Finley Street entirely within public rights-of-way, making UGA’s consent unnecessary. UGA has been asked to participate, but has thus far failed to respond.
Linnentown, a Black neighborhood located off Baxter and Finley Streets where UGA dormitories like Russell Hall now stand, was destroyed by the city of Athens at the request of UGA during the “urban renewal” period of the 60s and 70s. Linnentown residents, who were forcibly removed from their homes during this process, were not given an apology from the local government until Mayor Kelly Girtz formally apologized this year.
UGA, on the other hand, has continued in their refusal to apologize to former Linnentown residents, some of whom still live in Athens.
Girtz’s apology was the result of an organizing effort led by these Black residents called the Linnentown Project. This public pressure also prompted the mayor and commission to issue the Linnentown resolution, which includes a call for reparations. Girtz established the Athens Justice and Memory Project to determine the exact form the reparations will end up taking, since the idea is complicated by state law which forbids a direct contribution of money.
Reparations for urban renewal are underway in Athens
The Athens Justice and Memory Project, led by former Linnentown resident Hattie Thomas-Whitehead, has been developing plans for both reparations and for raising awareness about what happened during urban renewal. Her committee will give recommendations to the mayor and commission during their yearly budget cycle about how best to repair the harm the city caused over 50 years ago. For example, in the last budget cycle, they recommended that all ACC employees should be paid at least $15 an hour, to which the commission agreed.
Thomas-Whitehead’s team is also making plans for a Black History Center which they hope will be housed on the first floor of the Costa building on Washington Street. Finally, they’re developing the Linnentown Walk of Recognition to raise awareness of their former neighborhood right where it once stood — on UGA campus.
The Linnentown Walk of Recognition
Thomas-Whitehead asked Dr. Jennifer Rice, UGA Professor of Urban Geography, to lead the subcommittee responsible for the Walk of Recognition. Rice’s subcommittee decided on a relatively straightforward walk with three stops providing information about the former Black neighborhood and how it was destroyed. It may include the names and former addresses of those who were displaced.
Each stop in the walk “will be a celebration of Linnentown’s significance and a reminder of what we’ve lost,” Thomas-Whitehead told APN.
For the fourth and final stop in the walk, Rice teamed up with Dr. Lynn Sanders-Bustle, UGA Professor of Art Education, who recommended an art installation in the form of a tile mosaic. Sanders-Bustle will integrate this project into her classes, which will provide at least some UGA cooperation throughout the process.
The mosaic is intended as a collaborative art project with participation from UGA students, former Linnentown residents and other Athens community members as well. Sanders-Bustle’s students will plan and host several community workshops where participants will learn the history of Linnentown and help create some pieces for the mosaic itself.
The first of these workshops will take place this weekend, Saturday, Oct. 23, from 1-3 pm at Lay Park. Participants will create a collaborative poem, mold clay medallions and vote on different designs for the structure of the mosaic.
Rice estimates that the mosaic will be complete in summer of 2022 with the entire process being done collaboratively. Even the mosaic’s installation will be collaborative. Community members will take turns fixing mosaic pieces into the installation in something of a ceremony completing the Walk of Recognition.
A lack of participation from UGA admin
Thomas-Whitehead says she has yet to receive a reply from UGA after repeatedly asking if the Walk of Recognition could be installed on UGA grounds.
While not affiliated with the Justice and Memory Project, some community members have criticized UGA for their lack of participation and refusal to apologize to former residents of Linnentown. Last weekend during UGA’s homecoming game, protesters raised their voices against UGA’s lack of participation, unfurling a large banner reading “Reparations for Linnentown” from the bridge connecting the Tate Student Center and the Miller Learning Center.
These protesters, who are not a part of any organized group, are asking community members to call UGA President Jere Morehead (706-542-1214) and ask him “to meet with the first descendants of Linnentown to discuss a plan for redistributing the community wealth stolen through the demolition of Athens residents’ homes.”
According to protest organizer and UGA graduate student Vanessa Raditz, “We need to use the community energy and creativity that we leveraged against the city to bring that same attention to UGA’s role in the demolition of these homes.”