An Athens-Clarke County committee is determined to move forward with a memorial for Linnetown despite efforts by the University of Georgia system to block a mosaic at the former site of the demolished neighborhood.
USG Executive Vice Chancellor Teresa MacCartney wrote a July 29 letter to ACC attorney Judd Drake refusing permission to install the mosaic at the intersection of Baxter and Finley streets. , reported Athens Politics Nerd. The ACC was originally thought to own the right of way; however, a recent investigation determined that the ACC only owned the causeway itself, according to ACC Deputy Director Niki Jones. The surrounding right-of-way was never legally ceded to the city when the UGA demolished Linnentown to build new dormitories during “urban renewal” in the 1960s.
MacCartney also raised other concerns about the mosaic, including traffic safety, limited parking, and potential inconsistency with University of Georgia design standards. Members of the Justice and Memory Project, appointed by Mayor Kelly Girtz in 2021 to commemorate Linnentown, called such objections red herrings, noting that the UGA ignored invitations to participate in the process and refused to acknowledge its role in the destruction of the predominantly black neighborhood.
“It’s disappointing, but that’s how it is – to be so arrogant that you wouldn’t allow it to happen,” committee chairwoman Hattie Thomas Whitehead, who grew up in Linnetown, said at a meeting on 17 august.
Committee member Jennifer Rice, a geography professor at UGA, said the committee still intends to follow ACC guidelines on transportation and public works. “I don’t know where that came from because we were never going to design a mosaic that had security issues,” Rice said.
The Justice and Memory Project is now investigating other potential locations in what was once Linnentown to place the mosaic. Girtz asked county staff to map potential locations along Baxter and Cloverhurst streets, where the ACC government no doubt owns the right-of-way. He also suggested renaming Finley Street after Linnentown. Another solution could be to paint artwork on Finley Street itself, such as the planned rainbow crosswalk for College Avenue, curator Mariah Parker has suggested.
Meanwhile interpretive panels planned for Finley Street are also suspended as the ACC seeks legal advice, said Selah Gardiner, ACC Inclusion Manager. But committee members remain optimistic that the hurdles can be overcome. “We’re going to get there,” Rice said. “It will happen.”
The committee is also making progress on a reparations spending plan that the ACC has promised former Linnetown residents. A study in April by Jerry Shannon, a UGA professor who specializes in housing, urban development and inequality, found that residents lost $5 million in generational wealth when Linnetown was razed, because the government had underpaid for their homes and they had been forced to move. to other parts of the city where property values have not risen as quickly.
The ACC pledged to pay $2.5 million, and the Justice and Memory Project asked UGA to contribute the remaining $2.5 million. From the ACC, half should be dedicated to affordable housing and the other half to an African-American history center, perhaps in the vacant Costa Building downtown, next to the city Hall. Committee member Charlene Marsh said she spoke to the nonprofit East Athens Development Corp. down payments on housing and to Historic Athens from its Hands on Athens home repair program. The Georgian constitution prohibits direct payments to former residents.
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