On Wednesday, April 19, 2019, Athens for Everyone welcomed members of the community to the monthly A4E Political Discussion Group. The focus for the evening was on actions and decisions made by UGA administrators, including university president Jere Morehead, related to the reinterment of the remains of former slaves of African descent unearthed during construction on campus.
The discussion featured a partial screening of Below Baldwin, a new documentary detailing the events that transpired during the process that ultimately led to the quiet reinterment of the remains with little community involvement. Joe Lavine, the director of the documentary and recent UGA graduate, was on hand to facilitate discussion, along with A4E board members Rachelle Berry and Nnenne Onyioha-Clayton.
Below Baldwin tells the story of UGA’s misleading and exclusionary approach during the decision-making process. Calls from the local community and from UGA staff have been mounting for the university to address not only how it handled the reinterment, but also the historic role the institution has played in the violence and racism visited upon African slaves and their descendents, during the transatlantic slave trade and long after. A letter demanding recognition and redress of UGA’s connection to enslavement was delivered in early April 2019 to Morehead, by local organizations including the Economic Justice Coalition, Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, Athens NAACP, United Campus Workers of Georgia and Athens for Everyone. Also, a UGA faculty group formed an ad hoc committee and produced a report concluding that the university did an inadequate job involving the local community in the decision-making process, and called for them to apologize and take restorative steps in the community to acknowledge and address the university’s history with slavery.
Community members attending the discussion expressed frustration at the unwillingness of the university to grasp the significance of the discovery of the remains to local Black residents, in particular. Many attendees were exasperated that Morehead and the university have stood by claims that they followed archeological standards during the process, because they still chose to not meaningfully involve local community members like Fred Smith, Sr. and Linda E. Davis, both longtime Athens residents who have long been advocating for a complete and honest telling of Black history in Athens. Discussion on this matter included the steps that have been taken at other universities to recognize and redress the impact of their participation in slavery and racist violence, and what UGA can and should do to this end.
And, in late May 2019, UGA quietly released a state-mandated archaeological report detailing other removals of human remains throughout UGA’s history. This quiet release of this report serves as even more evidence of the painful and persistent legacy of denial on UGA’s behalf in regard to its historical connection to slavery.by