The University of Georgia will build a memorial at Baldwin Hall to the slaves whose remains were discovered buried near the building during construction in 2015.
A black-owned quarry in Oglethorpe County will donate 35,000 pounds of granite for the memorial, the university announced today. UGA Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Michelle Cook is a member of the family—the Millie Long estate in Carlton—that owns the quarry. The memorial will be built on the south side of Baldwin Hall, near Old Athens Cemetery.
“Our family is proud to contribute to this historic project, which will serve as permanent tribute to the memory of these individuals,” Cook said in a news release. “This project is particularly important to me because of my own family history in the Athens area, which dates back more than 150 years. It was an honor to work with the task force to design a memorial that will provide a tranquil, reflective place for our entire community.”
Cook chaired an 18-member task force that President Jere Morehead appointed after the university was criticized by members of the local black community for its handling of the remains.
The remains of about 105 individuals were found during an expansion of Baldwin Hall three years ago, buried in a largely forgotten section of Athens’ first cemetery. DNA testing subsequently found that many of the remains likely were those of slaves.
The remains were moved to nearby Oconee Hill Cemetery, and a memorial there was dedicated in March 2017. But leaders in Athens’ black community said they weren’t consulted on that decision about the final resting place of people who may have been their ancestors, and some wanted the remains moved to one of Athens’ historically African-American cemeteries.
None of the leading critics, such as Fred Smith, Dekalb County CEO and native Athenian Michael Thurmond, local NAACP chapter president Alvin Sheats or Clarke County school board member Linda Davis, were included on the task force. But Smith said he’s encouraged by the news of the memorial.
“This is a significant step forward,” he said. “It’s important to have the site immortalized. Admittedly, I’m curious about what wording will be etched into the stone. The historical language is almost just as important as the monument.”
Smith said in an email that he’d like to see the following facts acknowledged: “The area became a burial ground for slaves around 1801 when Athens was established and classes first started at the university; City officials closed the cemetery for blacks in 1859 due to, among other reasons, it was overcrowded; the enslaved persons’ lives, work and contributions to the university and Athens; The removal and relocation of slaves’ remains from the burial grounds through the years to scattered locations throughout Athens, including disruptions in 1938 when Baldwin Hall was constructed and during the building’s recent $8.7 million expansion in 2015-2017; and the strong outcry of public disapproval, especially in the local African-American community—but also on campus, around the handling of the most recent removals and reburials.
“Additionally, there should be a clear acknowledgement that people still are buried there!”
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