Oconee Street United Methodist Church has sent a letter to University of Georgia President Jere Morehead encouraging the university to acknowledge its involvement in the destruction of the historically Black Linnentown neighborhood in the 1960s and join in work to address the harm done to residents and their descendants. In a letter drafted by the church’s Reparations Action Committee and approved by church leaders, OSUMC acknowledges its own role in racial division and desire to change:
“We are aware of the complicity of historically white churches, including our own, that perpetrated and maintain racial division in the community. We commit to working towards restorative justice for the descendants of Linnentown and ask UGA to join in these efforts,” the letter states.
Here it is in full:
May 17, 2021
Re: The Linnentown Resolution
President Jere W. Morehead
University of Georgia
Dear President Morehead,
Oconee Street United Methodist Church is writing to urge you to participate in the work of recognition and redress with The Linnentown Project. We are aware of the harm that occurred to this community and the detrimental effects it continues to have on all the families that lived there. We understand that the University of Georgia and the Urban Renewal Program (1961-1966) erased this community in order to build Brumby, Creswell, and Russell Halls. We are also aware of Senator Richard B. Russell’s involvement, and that several buildings at UGA honor him. Members of this congregation include current students, faculty, and staff; alumni; and retired faculty and staff. Our association with UGA gives us a vested interest in acknowledging the sins of the past and the continuing harm the university perpetrates by not participating in the Linnentown Project.
As you are aware, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission unanimously adopted historic legislation called The Linnentown Resolution for Recognition and Redress. The resolution calls on UGA to join the local government in repairing the harm committed against Linnentown. Mayor Kelly Girtz has already assembled the Linnentown Justice and Memory Committee to implement the demands of the resolution. It is a community endeavor that moves Athens towards atonement. Mayor Girtz also issued a formal proclamation February 2, 2021 that included an apology in recognition of Black Athenians displaced by urban renewal projects. These are admirable steps made by our Mayor and Commission.
The Linnentown Project and the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County are working to heal and move forward. This cannot fully take place until UGA joins them. We ask your administration to acknowledge UGA’s direct involvement in Linnentown’s destruction. The recent announcement about the funds UGA committed for a multidisciplinary study of the history of slavery at UGA is an important and positive step toward healing the relationship between the university and Black community of Athens, because it acknowledges actions taken by UGA in the past that have repercussions still being felt today. The urban renewal project that destroyed the community of Linnentown is also part of the history of UGA, and also deserves to be acknowledged. We urge UGA to work with the Justice and Memory Committee to seek avenues of atonement.
Our pastor, congregation, and our community are praying and encouraging UGA to do what is right: to join with the Justice & Memory Committee and to be a part of a historical movement toward reconciliation. We are aware of the complicity of historically white churches, including our own, that perpetrated and maintain racial division in the community. We commit to working towards restorative justice for the descendants of Linnentown and ask UGA to join in these efforts.
The Rev. Laura Patterson, Pastor of Oconee Street UMC & 52 individual church members