In the 1960s, a Black neighborhood known as Linnentown was demolished via an urban renewal project to build high-rise dormitories, as led by the University of Georgia and the city of Athens.
Today, residents displaced by the project are seeking justice and acknowledgement of the past through the Athens Justice and Memory Project and the Linnentown Resolution for Recognition and Redress.
Work has begun on the Linnentown Mosaic Project, a public art piece to be installed on South Finley Street, where freshman dormitories Russell, Creswell and Brumby Halls were built in place of the homes of Linnentown residents.
The mosaic is one feature of a Walk of Recognition established by the Linnentown Resolution for Recognition and Redress adopted by the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, according to the resolution’s website.
Lobbyists of the Linnentown Project pushed for the physical memorial along with an official acknowledgement from the ACC government accepting responsibility for the injustices committed by the city of Athens, the building of a local center on slavery, race and racial justice co-founded by the University System of Georgia as well as the historic designation of remaining Linnentown structures, among other features.
Currently, members of the Linnentown Project are collaborating with community members and UGA students through mosaic workshops to begin the process of creating a project proposal for the mosaic. The project is organized by Jennifer Rice, a UGA professor of geography, and Lynn Sanders-Bustle, a UGA professor of art education.
On Nov. 14, Hattie Thomas Whitehead, the director of the Linnentown Project and a first generation descendant of Linnentown, spoke at the mosaic workshop on the trauma the displacement caused her family.
Thomas Whitehead remembered coming home one day to discover a sign at the front of the Linnentown neighborhood declaring the homes to be destroyed under the Federal Housing Act.
According to Title One of the Federal Housing Act of 1949, areas designated as “slums” could be subject to removal by the city for private developers to then build new housing.
“They said over and over in their paperwork that [Linnentown] was a slum,” Thomas Whitehead said. “This was not a slum. We saw houses of our neighbors that were burned. We saw houses pushed down and dismantled little by little of the people we knew and loved and [who] supported us, which mentally was hard on all of us and caused a lot of trauma.”
Many of Linnentown’s residents were left with no other choice but to move into public housing, as they could not afford to buy another house, Thomas Whitehead said.
“My parents had just built a house in 1958,” Thomas Whitehead said. “It’s 1962 and there was a quick turnaround to build another house so we were redlined to go to public housing. I’m not knocking public housing. I’m just saying it’s hard to go from being a homeowner to public housing. Housing was a problem then, and it still is today in Athens.”
UGA has yet to collaborate with members of the Linnentown Project or accept the placement of the Walk of Recognition on university property. However, Athens has worked diligently to ensure the Walk is installed on public property.
“The city is a close collaborator and they’ve been very supportive of the justice project,” Rice said. “When they heard what we wanted to do, they worked with us to understand what the right of way is that the city owns, and we’ll build the structure there on the city side of the property.”
Featuring broken tile, clay medallions and found objects, the mosaic portion of the Walk of Recognition and the Linnentown Resolutions will ideally be ready to propose to the city for approval of construction by the end of the semester, according to Sanders-Bustle.
“We want to honor and recognize the community that was there and serve the people who were displaced,” Rice said. “But we also want it to be someplace that the broader community can come to learn about the history of what the neighborhood was like and about what urban renewal was. It should really serve all of those things — honoring and remembering Linnentown, but also being a community gathering space and educational opportunity.”