Chanting slogans like “shut them down!” several hundred marchers braved freezing weather on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday to protest discriminatory practices at student bars downtown, as well as what they see as a more generally unwelcoming attitude toward African Americans downtown.
“If anybody here at any time doesn’t feel at home, we are no longer a university, because we are divided,” said Jasmine Johnson of the UGA NAACP.
The march started at the UGA Arch and passed by the Confederate-themed bar General Beauregards (which sparked a controversy last year by serving a drink called a “N****rita”) before ending at City Hall, where Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Melissa Link read a resolution passed Jan. 4 condemning discrimination and calling for a local anti-discrimination ordinance.
“More than 50 years after Martin Luther King marched with half a million people in Washington, D.C. and talked about his dream, and more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act [banning discrimination at businesses that are open to the public] was signed, we still have to fight,” Link said.
An ordinance ACC staff have been instructed to write would allow the city to pull the alcohol licenses of any bar that discriminates. But former mayoral candidate Tim Denson of Athens for Everyone wants it to go further, applying to all types of businesses.
“An alcohol license is a privilege,” Denson said. “You know what else is a privilege? A business license.”
Denson also proposed a local “human relations commission” that would investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination.
Like Denson, Clarke County NAACP President Alvin Sheats noted the majority-white makeup of the marchers—people of color feel uncomfortable downtown, Sheats explained—and said they need to put pressure on businesses.
“It’s going to take hitting them in their pocketbooks, in the cash register,” he said.
Sheats warned of a larger conspiracy, as well: a “ big push to push people of color, of lesser wealth, out of Clarke County.”
Link and other speakers urged marchers to stay involved and attend ACC Commission meetings.
Sheats noted that there is only one black commissioner and no black ACC department heads. (Actually, there is one: Internal Auditor Stephanie Maddox.)
"I'm tired of people looking like me sitting on every commission that runs this community," Denson said.
A follow-up meeting is scheduled for 3–5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7 at the ACC Library, march organizer Mokah Johnson said.