Dozens of protesters held signs calling for reparations for the Linnentown community as they stood along the walls in the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission chamber on the evening of Feb. 4.
Linnentown was a neighborhood located where the University of Georgia’s three largest residence halls — Russell, Brumby and Creswell — now sit. In the 1960s, the local government bought Linnentown residents’ homes through eminent domain as part of an urban renewal project, and the community was torn down and replaced by the dorms.
The Linnentown Project, an organization working to obtain reparations and recognition for the residents of the majority-black neighborhood, has pushed commissioners to approve the Linnentown Resolution. The resolution calls the city’s and UGA’s taking of the property “an act of institutionalized white supremacy and terrorism” resulting in long-term ramifications for the black population of Athens.
The resolution was not on the Commission’s agenda Tuesday. The turnout at the Commission’s voting meeting followed the Linnentown Project’s first major protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day outside City Hall.
“What better time to make sure that [the Linnentown Resolution] gets on an agenda to be voted on and passed in this month, in order to commemorate Black History Month and show people in this community that you care about black people?” said Imani Scott-Blackwell, a supporter of the resolution, to the Commission.
The resolution demands recognition and compensation for Linnentown residents. A majority of commissioners did not express support for the resolution as written at Tuesday’s meeting.
District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright, District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby, District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod and District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport refrained from commenting on the resolution during the meeting.
District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards and District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith have expressed concern over the resolution’s current language. Edwards said during the meeting that he already “made [his] position clear” about not supporting the resolution, while NeSmith said he supports the idea behind the resolution but has reservations about some of its current language.
District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson, District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link and District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker expressed strong support for the resolution as written at Tuesday’s meeting. District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton expressed support for the project’s idea.
Parker denounced fellow commissioners who called for compromise on the resolution, which she helped develop.
“When we had a showing like this last time, it was about cats,” Parker said, referring to the controversy that erupted last fall after the local government came under fire for its management of the county animal shelter. “It didn’t take any conversation about compromise. We acted swiftly to ensure that justice was had for the cats. But when it comes to the breakup of black communities … suddenly we need to make sure that the white men sitting behind this rail have control over the process.”
The resolution describes the Linnentown community as a “burgeoning and stable” area where African American residents worked to build wealth even though they held low-wage jobs.
“These were not people who were a threat to society, but simply due to the color of their skin and the nature of their birth, they were removed from a place where they had made a community — a place where they could raise their children,” said Jamal Johnson, a Linnentown supporter. “This place no longer exists.”
In a Jan. 9 statement, UGA told commissioners it “respectfully disagree[s]” with some of the “conclusions” of the Linnentown Project. The university said the high-rise dormitories were constructed to accommodate the school’s population boom.
A total of 176 black families and 122 white families were displaced by two concurrent urban renewal projects — the University of Georgia Urban Renewal Program and the College Avenue Redevelopment Program — according to the Linnentown Project resolution. However, Linnentown itself was majority black, according to the Linnentown Project.
Before the Linnentown Project spoke about the resolution, commissioners discussed a proposed agreement between ACC and The Classic Center Authority that would allow the CCA to expand The Classic Center, creating several new buildings. Commissioners put the vote on hold to allow the public to get a better understanding of the agreement.
Commissioners also passed a revised resolution granting the Board of Elections $136,898 in contingency funds to implement new voting machines. Commissioners previously discussed granting only $101,898 but decided that funding would not be enough to ensure a smooth transition to the new system. Georgia is rolling out new voting machines statewide before the primary elections in March.
The Mayor and Commission did not explicitly discuss steps for considering the Linnentown resolution, but Mayor Kelly Girtz said he expects to have “significant” conversations with supporters of the Linnentown Resolution in the future.
Foster Steinbeck contributed to this article.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the racial makeup of Linnentown. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has since been corrected.