City DopeNews

University System Tries to Block Proposed Linnentown Mosaic

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

An Athens-Clarke County committee is determined to move forward with a memorial for Linnentown despite the University System of Georgia’s efforts to block a mosaic at the former site of the demolished neighborhood.

USG Executive Vice Chancellor Teresa MacCartney wrote a letter on July 29 to ACC Attorney Judd Drake denying permission to install the mosaic at the intersection of Baxter and Finley streets, Athens Politics Nerd reported. It was originally thought that ACC owned the right-of-way; however, a recent survey determined that ACC only owned the roadway itself, according to ACC Assistant Manager Niki Jones. The surrounding right-of-way was never legally handed over to the city when UGA demolished Linnentown to build new dorms during “urban renewal” in the 1960s.

MacCartney also raised other concerns with the mosaic, including traffic safety, limited parking and potential inconsistency with the University of Georgia’s design standards. Members of the Justice and Memory Project, appointed by Mayor Kelly Girtz in 2021 to commemorate Linnentown, called those objections red herrings, noting that UGA has ignored invitations to participate in the process and refused to acknowledge its role in destroying the majority Black neighborhood.

“It is disappointing, but that’s just the way it is—to be so arrogant that you would not allow this to occur,” committee chair Hattie Thomas Whitehead, who grew up in Linnentown, said at an Aug. 17 meeting.

Committee member Jennifer Rice, a UGA geography professor, said the committee always intended to follow ACC Transportation and Public Works guidelines. “I don’t know where that’s coming from, because we were never going to design a mosaic that had safety issues,” Rice said. 

The Justice and Memory Project is now looking at other potential locations within what used to be Linnentown to place the mosaic. Girtz asked county staff to map out potential locations along Baxter and Cloverhurst streets, where there’s no question that the ACC government owns the right-of-way. He also suggested renaming Finley Street after Linnentown. Another solution could be to paint artwork on Finley Street itself, similar to the rainbow crosswalk planned for College Avenue, Commissioner Mariah Parker suggested.

Meanwhile, interpretative signs planned for Finley Street are also on hold as ACC seeks legal guidance, ACC Inclusion Officer Selah Gardiner said. But committee members remain optimistic that the roadblocks can be hurdled. “We’re gonna make it happen,” Rice said. “It’s gonna happen.”

The committee is also making progress on a plan to spend reparations ACC has promised former Linnentown residents. An April study by Jerry Shannon, a UGA professor who specializes in housing, urban development and inequality, found that residents lost a combined $5 million in generational wealth when Linnentown was razed, because the government underpaid for their houses, and they were forced to move to other parts of the city where property values have not climbed as quickly.

ACC has committed to pay $2.5 million, and the Justice and Memory Project has asked UGA to contribute the other $2.5 million. Of ACC’s portion, half is slated to be spent on affordable housing, and the other half on an African American history center, possibly in the vacant Costa Building downtown next to City Hall. Committee member Charlene Marsh said she’s spoken to the nonprofit East Athens Development Corp. about housing down payments and Historic Athens about its Hands on Athens home repair program. The Georgia constitution prohibits direct payments to the former residents.