Slave remains protest

Protesters walk across the University of Georgia’s north campus to bring awareness to the slave remains found underneath Baldwin Hall on Monday, May 6, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Spencer Donovan)

The University of Georgia has issued a call for faculty research proposals studying slavery from 1785 through the end of the Civil War in 1865, according to a UGA news release.

“The new scholarship that results will document the contributions of slaves and recognize the role these individuals played in the history of the University of Georgia,” UGA President Jere Morehead said in the release.

A maximum of $100,000 in private discretionary funds from the Office of the President will support the selected projects, which are slated for completion by June 30, 2021. Proposals can be submitted online, and the deadline is Sept. 30.

The research proposal comes months after Athens community members, UGA students and faculty pressed Morehead and the UGA administration to acknowledge the university’s history of slavery, especially regarding the slave remains unearthed at Baldwin Hall in 2015.

Community optimism, wariness

Linda Davis Portrait

Linda Davis has been outspoken about the University of Georgia's handling of the slave remains unearthed at Baldwin Hall during a 2015 construction project. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, https://carolinembarnes.wixsite.com/photography)

Linda Davis, a Clarke County School Board member and one of many Athens community members who has spoken out about the Baldwin Hall remains, also works to restore Brooklyn Cemetery, a historic African American cemetery that suffered from years of neglect after the members of the previous cemetery board of trustees died.

Davis believes some of the Baldwin Hall remains could have belonged to her ancestors, and, if proven, she wants UGA to reinter those remains from their current location in Oconee Hill Cemetery to Brooklyn Cemetery. She sees the research initiative as an opportunity for UGA to come to terms with its history regarding slavery.

“I am elated that this is a process that’s beginning,” Davis said. “It has implications for our history books; it has implications for our K-12 education in Georgia and Athens particularly; it has implications for education about this state around the world.”

Other Athens community members are wary about the initiative and want to hold the university accountable. Community organizer Imani Scott-Blackwell said the initiative “could be a great stepping stone” between the Athens community and the university, but she hopes UGA includes community advocates in its plans.

“There are folks that have lived in this community for generations … for the research to be truly comprehensive it would be open to review by those stakeholders,” Scott-Blackwell said.

UGA on the defense

Morehead has defended the university’s handling of the situation multiple times. The Athens community and the UGA administration have been at odds since the slave remains were uncovered at Baldwin Hall.

“The University of Georgia handled the Baldwin Hall matter appropriately, and our response actually went far beyond what is required by the law,” Morehead said in a letter to The Red & Black in April.

On April 10, Athens activists and community groups called on university administrators to guarantee reparational scholarships to descendants of slaves who worked at the university and to African-American public school graduates in Athens, in addition to supporting slavery research.

Around the same time, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Baldwin Hall released a report in April alleging UGA intimidated faculty members who conducted slavery research. Morehead denied the findings of the report, saying the allegations were “troubling from the standpoint of due process and fundamental fairness.”

UGA archaeologists and Southeastern Archaeological Services, a contractor, studied the remains uncovered at the Baldwin Hall site, and the UGA Office of University Architects released the ensuing 826-page archaeological report in May.

“The [Baldwin Hall] report demonstrated the need for additional research to fill a void, and it is our hope that faculty and students from several disciplines will participate in this significant research initiative,” UGA vice president for research David Lee said in the Aug. 7 release.

Reclaiming history

The release said proposals should build on previous research to culminate in “one or more definitive, publishable histories” on the university’s relationship with slavery.

“If we can just tell the whole story, it starts to change things for the marginalized and the underrepresented people in this community,” Davis said. “To recognize that you have a place in the creation of something is really significant, and you can take pride in something that’s survived and something that’s strong.”

UGA did not mention a “center” for slavery research, which was part of the activists’ request to support faculty projects. A group of professors from the UGA Institute for African American studies and the UGA History Department have proposed the funding of a centralized body of slavery research.

Professors, activists, students and other community members have called on the university to join the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, which includes institutions such as the University of Virginia, the University of South Carolina and Clemson University.

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