Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz signed a proclamation Tuesday officially apologizing for Athens-Clarke County’s role in the destruction of Linnentown, a majority-Black community, during urban renewal in the 1960s. On Feb. 16, the mayor and commission is set to vote on a resolution about Linnentown presented by the Athens Justice and Memory Project.
On Feb 2, Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz signed a Proclamation of Apology in Recognition of Athenians Displaced by Urban Renewal Projects. This comes 2 weeks before the vote on February 16 on the resolution being presented by the Linnentown Memory & Justice Committee. pic.twitter.com/JoS5venByn— Commissioner Tim Denson (@TimDenson4ATH) February 3, 2021
The project is a resident-led group seeking to raise awareness about the destruction of Linnentown. It had its first meeting in September, during which Girtz said Athenians should expect similar efforts in the future. If passed, the resolution would create a process for the county to provide reparations to the community. The Justice and Memory Committee would “determine the total amount of intergenerational wealth lost to urban renewal” to “provide equitable redress … and to foster future reinvestment in historically underfunded and impoverished neighborhoods.”
The Justice and Memory Committee would make annual budget recommendations to the mayor and commission for redress projects including affordable housing, economic development, communication services, public transportation and public art, according to the resolution. The government would also seek a partnership with the University System of Georgia to create a Center on Slavery, Jim Crow and the Future of Athens Black Communities.
In the 1960s, the city of Athens, along with the University of Georgia, used eminent domain laws to force Linnentown residents from their homes and tear down the community. Where 50 Black families’ homes once stood now stand UGA’s high-rise dorms, Russell, Creswell and Brumby halls.
The proclamation says that the county extends to former residents of urban renewal areas, their descendants and 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.”
Recently, efforts to gain recognition and reparations for the families of those displaced by urban renewal have been underway – and may soon come to fruition. A year ago, the Linnentown Project, an organization aiming to attain redress for the community, packed a mayor and commission meeting holding signs that demanded the commission approve the Linnentown Resolution, which calls for reparations for residents of Linnentown.
The commission did not vote on the resolution then, but the legislation that commissioners are set to vote on in two weeks is a version of the same resolution. The new resolution was drafted by the Athens Justice and Memory Project alongside the Linnentown Project and some members of the commission, District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said in an email to The Red & Black.