On Monday, Hattie Thomas Whitehead, chairperson of The Linnentown Project, wrote a letter to University of Georgia President Jere Morehead inviting him to join the Athens-Clarke County Justice and Memory Project Committee. The letter also criticized UGA’s past responses to the organization's efforts to recognize Linnentown.
Linnentown was a Black neighborhood located along Baxter Street. It was destroyed in 1962 when UGA and Athens used eminent domain laws to seize the land as part of an urban renewal project. Cresswell Hall, Russell Hall and Brumby Hall now stand on the neighborhood’s former site.
In recent years, the story of Linnentown has received renewed attention. Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz formed The Linnentown Justice and Memorial Committee in 2020 to make recommendations on reparations for those affected by Linnentown’s destruction.
In February, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission passed the Linnentown resolution following more than a year of lobbying by The Linnentown Project. The resolution calls for recognition, reparations and redress.
Whitehead’s letter criticized UGA’s silence in response to The Linnentown Project’s efforts to involve it in recognizing Linnentown.
“The Linnentown Project has extended a number of invitations to UGA to join the [The Linnentown Justice and Memory] Committee. However, you have not replied once. Not even to decline,” Whitehead said in the letter.
She said UGA did not respond to The Linnentown Project’s request to build a “walk of recognition” along South Finley Street to acknowledge Linnentown. Whitehead also said UGA ignored their request to change the name of Russell Hall — which is named for Georgia Sen. Richard Russell, who supported destroying Linnentown — to Linnentown Hall.
Morehead responded to the letter in a statement on Tuesday, saying the city of Athens used eminent domain to remove Linnentown, and the University System of Georgia, not UGA, was responsible for purchasing the land. Because of this, Morehead wrote, the chancellor of the USG should be invited to the committee, not the president of UGA.
Morehead also said in the statement he did not recall the formal request to rename Russell Hall and that changes to building names should be directed to the Board of Regents.
Finally, Morehead said representatives from UGA offered to include the story of Linnentown in the Athens Oral History Project maintained by UGA’s libraries and that UGA is working to improve diversity on campus.