Regarding the ongoing meetings, conversations, discussions and debates regarding UGA and the Baldwin Hall Memorial commemorating the remains of the 100-plus enslaved African people (who became African Americans) unearthed in 2015, I have an idea. Well, maybe it’s more of an epiphany. Or even a revelation.
Methinks this idea would be a wonderful opportunity for UGA to act in a way that would have a long-lasting positive social, cultural, political and academic impact. It would even profit UGA in terms of any marketing initiative to quantitatively increase its minority student enrollment or improve its potentially tarnished public image regarding its perceived or real mishandling of the remains of the 100-plus enslaved African Americans who resided and toiled in Athens during UGA’s 19th Century expansion.
Oh, the memorial service was a wonderful gesture, as are the plaque and the permanent granite memorial at Baldwin Hall, and all three should be acknowledged, applauded and appreciated.
However, many agree that much more can be done, and should be done, by such a renowned and wealthy institution—especially one whose administrators have reportedly wondered how they might broaden the institution’s appeal to attract more students of color.
While memorial services, plaques and the construction of monuments are highly effective and valuable ways to memorialize and document the past lives and historical experiences of a people, a much broader vision of and commitment to preservation should take into consideration the perpetuation and sustainability of those specific and similar lives, accounts and narratives, and how they are discovered, documented, gathered, stored and forwarded into the future.
Put another way: How might President Jere Morehead’s previous statement that the granite memorial “will serve as a source of contemplation and inspiration for generations to come” be actualized and measured? Furthermore, now that UGA has offered some act of homage to the 100-plus enslaved Africans through a service, commemorative inscription and a shrine, what next can they do to honor and respect the descendants of those enslaved and the African-American community collectively? How can UGA advance a commitment to or action plan for a restorative act of reconciliation, of sorts—a kind of gesture of reparations? Or even a unique kind of gift as means and ends to and for resolution and restoration? Some might even suggest reference to that other “R” word: repentance.
Here are my thoughts: Maybe UGA can offer scholarships, degrees or certificates to black and brown students interested in studying antiquities law, archeology law, cultural property law, cemetery law, museum law, historic preservation, archaeology or cultural anthropology. Maybe UGA can offer continuing education courses, workshops or seminars to individuals or organizations—first and foremost, those of color—interested in the previously mentioned disciplines or fields of study. Maybe UGA can boost its commitments to the discovery, documentation and preservation of local black life, culture and history through collaborations and partnerships with individuals and organizations, off campus and throughout the city.