Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from UGA on the Linnentown resolution.
Bobby Crooks was 11 years old when his family had to move from the Linnentown neighborhood in 1966. His parents had bought their home at 167 Peabody St. in 1938.
Crooks described his home as “the community house” where people could stop in for a meal, directions or anything they needed. But one day Crooks came home from school to the “entire neighborhood crying.” When Crooks asked what was going on, he received the news.
“‘We have to move. The University of Georgia is taking our house,’” Crooks said he was told.
Crooks told his story to local activists, commissioners and candidates on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the steps of Athens-Clarke County City Hall. He and other former residents of Linnentown, a majority black neighborhood replaced by UGA dorms, rallied for “recognition and redress” of their community.
Monday’s rally comes on the heels of the Linnentown Project’s proposal of a piece of legislation to the ACC Mayor and Commission. On Jan. 9, the project announced the Linnentown Resolution for Recognition and Redress, which demands recognition and recompensation for residents who lost their homes from the demolition of the community as part of the UGA Extension Urban Renewal Project.
The local urban renewal project began in the 1960s, and some families were displaced to public housing facilities, the resolution said.
Linnentown was a “burgeoning and stable” community where African Americans built up wealth through stable employment and property ownership, according to the Linnentown Project’s website.
The Linnentown Project resolution says “a disproportionate number of the Athens black population” was affected by the project, but, in a Jan. 9 statement, UGA said the resolution states “more than forty percent” of the families affected by the project were white.
UGA’s Brumby Hall, Creswell Hall and Russell Hall dormitories were built where the Linnentown community once stood. Between 1962 and 1966, the city of Athens bought out the community through eminent domain, according to the resolution.
In the Jan. 9 statement, UGA told ACC Commissioners it “respectfully disagree[s]” with the “conclusions” of the Linnentown Project. The new dormitories were constructed to accommodate the university’s population boom.
Speakers at the rally said the actions of the university and the city were part of “institutionalized white supremacy” and “white terrorism” while advocating for more than just recognition.
“We got to be paid. We got to show that we are here. We represent something,” said former Linnentown resident Geneva Johnson-Eberhart. “We are not dead. We are here.”
Attendees at the MLK Day rally held signs that read “UGA needs to pay,” “Redress for Linnentown” and “Keep Linnentown alive.”
“I went down to a city hall and took back what they stole from me,” the protestors chanted.
Urban renewal projects took place in hundreds of cities around the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. The projects largely displaced poor and minority communities, according to a study by the University of Richmond.
The resolution demands the Mayor and Commission make a public statement “taking responsibility” for their role in the destruction of the community. It demands a memorial be placed on the site where Linnentown once stood, monetary compensation from the city of Athens and the creation of a “local center” on racial justice.
The resolution also demands the adoption of new policy to regulate future property acquisitions for “large public institutions” like the University System of Georgia, the release said.
The only landmark recognizing Linnentown’s history is a historical marker placed where the Jeruel Academy, a school for black youth, once stood within the neighborhood, according to the Linnentown Project.
The proposed resolution by the Linnentown Project does not have the unanimous support of the Commission.
District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker helped develop the legislation and is joined in support by District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link and District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson.
District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said in an email to The Red & Black that he supports the Linnentown Project but does “not believe that the current language” of the resolution “would be considered favorably by the commission.” District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport said he supported a previously discussed version of the resolution but does not support its current form.
District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton said she has not seen the current version of the proposed resolution, but said she supports “the concept of [addressing] Linnentown” and is glad the Linnentown Project brought the issue to her attention. Thornton said the Commission is interested in addressing the issue but has not formally discussed it.
District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright, District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod and District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
ACC Mayor Kelly Girtz did not say whether he supports the resolution in its current form. In an email to The Red & Black, Girtz said he does “anticipate a resolution recognizing the entire array of neighborhoods and residents impacted by Athens’ two Urban Renewal zones through the 1960s.”
Denson and Link attended the rally and spoke on behalf of Linnentown and its residents while expressing their support for the resolution. District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards also attended and spoke at the rally, and was pressured by attending activists on whether or not he supported the resolution as it is written, which he does not.
“I disagree with those today that argued that the University of Georgia is a white supremacist, terrorist organization. The resolution contains some of that same language. I support the intent of the resolution. We might get more people behind it if it was better drafted,” Edwards said in an emailed statement.
Edwards’ answer was met with strong displeasure from the attendees, with one yelling out, “You are white, you don’t get an opinion,” before chants of “support the resolution” rang out from the entire crowd.
According to the press release, the Linnentown Project wants the resolution to be added to the Mayor and Commission’s March voting meeting.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Commissioners Jerry NeSmith, Patrick Davenport and Ovita Thornton support the resolution as it is written. NeSmith said he supports the Linnentown Project but does “not believe that the current language” of the resolution “would be considered favorably by the commission.” Davenport said he supported a previously discussed version of the resolution but does not support its current form. Thornton said she has not seen the current version of the proposed resolution, but said she supports “the concept of [addressing] Linnentown.” The Red & Black regrets these errors, and they have since been fixed.