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Ex-Linnentown Residents Owed $5 Million, According to UGA Analysis

Hattie Thomas Whitehead stands in the courtyard of Creswell Hall, mere feet from where the shotgun house she was raised in once stood. Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPB

Since the Linnentown neighborhood was razed in the 1960s to make way for UGA’s Baxter Street dorms, former residents have lost a combined $5 million in generation wealth, according to a UGA geographer and economist.

Jerry Shannon used records housed at the UGA Special Collections Libraries, along with Census data and old tax records, to calculate how much Linnentown residents were underpaid for their homes and how much money they lost over time after those homes were bought or seized by the local government. He came up with a figure of $5,022,375: 

“That’s what we say is the loss that’s due to the displacement related to property valuation, both underpayment and lost appreciation,” Shannon told the Justice and Memory Committee, appointed by Mayor Kelly Girtz to come up with a reparations plan after former Linnentown residents and their descendants, led by Hattie Thomas Whitehead, demanded redress.

The $5 million figure does not include other potential financial losses, such as education, job opportunities or transportation costs, nor does it factor in the emotional trauma of being forcibly removed from their neighborhood, Shannon said.

As an example, Shannon cited a house at 187 Lyndon Row owned by John Henry Dillard. Adjusted for inflation, he received $114,000 for his home, yet today it would be worth $201,000, a net loss of $87,000 for Dillard’s family. In addition, Dillard relocated to East Athens, where housing has not appreciated as much as in the area around Linnentown, which means his family lost another $34,000 over the ensuing decades by being forced to move.

The Justice and Memory Committee’s precursor, the Linnentown Project, wanted UGA and Athens-Clarke County to split whatever the cost of reparations might be. ACC has committed to pay its share, but UGA has denied any responsibility. 

The committee has yet to make a recommendation on how the money should be spent. The Georgia constitution’s “gratuities clause” prohibits direct payments to individuals, so it will likely go into a fund for affordable housing or some other program to benefit the community. The committee is also planning a “walk of recognition” with signs and artwork about the neighborhood.

At UGA’s request, the City of Athens used its eminent domain power to condemn houses whose owners refused to sell. UGA also received nearly $1 million from the federal government to “clear out the total slum area,” as university president O.C. Aderhold wrote in a letter to Sen. Richard B. Russell requesting assistance. Sixty-five homes were torn down, the majority owned by Black residents.