A petition to rename buildings at the University of Georgia that are named after racist figures garnered support from thousands of students and faculty. However, it’s not only buildings that are named after racist figures — two of Athens’ major streets are as well.
Here are the stories behind the namesakes of Clayton and Lumpkin streets.
Clayton Street runs through downtown Athens and is known for its vibrant nightlife. The bar-lined street is named after prominent former judge Augustin Smith Clayton. At UGA, he helped found the Demosthenian Society and was a graduate of the first graduating class of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
He also was “one of the most outspoken proponents of Indian removal in Georgia” and a slave owner, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Clayton published a series of essays advocating for the acceptance of the Treaty of Indian Springs. The treaty eliminated the Creek Nation’s claim to a large portion of Georgia land, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. In the essays, Clayton claimed that Native Americans had no legal title to their lands and that they lost the temporary right of occupation if they were not actively using it.
Later, Clayton presided over cases concerning the state of Georgia, the Cherokee Nation’s Constitution and the fight between which had the right to make laws for the Cherokee land within the state.
“In Georgia v. Saunders (1830), Clayton’s court ruled that Cherokee law enforcement lacked the authority to arrest, try and punish a white man for stealing a horse near Ellijay, deep in the Cherokee Nation,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
The jury for that case convicted 13 Cherokee officials of false imprisonment and of assault and battery.
Another case, State v. Missionaries, regarded the state’s requirement that all white citizens within the Cherokee Nation obtain a Georgia passport, “which demanded swearing allegiance to Georgia’s laws” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. White missionaries were arrested in March 1831 for violation of this law, and Clayton sentenced them to four years imprisonment, undermining the Cherokee Nation’s authority on their land.
This case made its way to the U.S Supreme Court and it ruled against Georgia. The federal government under President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the ruling.
Lumpkin Street connects Macon Highway to parts of UGA — such as the Bolton crosswalk — to downtown Athens. It is named after former Georgia governor and Rep. Wilson Lumpkin, who was “one of Georgia’s most prominent political leaders of the antebellum period” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. He was also a UGA trustee.
His major accomplishment, in his eyes, was his role in the removal of the Cherokee Indians from north Georgia. Living in what was Oglethorpe County, he often saw the “Indian-white tension and conflict” he said prevalent in his region. In his memoir, he wrote that his family was “exposed … to frequent depredations from hostile and savage Indian neighbors.”
Lumpkin believed that Native Americans and whites couldn’t peacefully coexist.
“He was, however, no believer in innate white superiority, for he argued that the Cherokees, if removed to western territory and given time to develop, would acquire a cultural equality with whites and become a state, admitted to the Union on a par with other states,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Though a majority of the Cherokee, prominent legislators and Christian missionaries opposed Lumpkin’s views, he had “powerful allies” in Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Georgia public opinion and majority U.S. congressional sentiment.
This sentiment eventually led to the removal of the Native Americans from the south, known as the Trail of Tears, where an estimated 4,000-5,000 Native Americans died.