On a cold mid-May Wednesday, more than a dozen members of Oconee Street UMC showed up for the Beyond Baldwin March and Protest at the Arch on UGA’s North Campus where a range of speakers urged university leaders to confront historic and present day racial harms with specific initiatives to create a just and antiracist learning community in line with the demographics of our state. The church is working to address that complex history through the work of Oconee Street’s Racial Justice Task Force (RJTF), LYDN groups and Reparations Action Committee.
Beyond Baldwin, a student activist group dedicated to social and racial justice at UGA, and the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, a community organization that partners with the RJTF on criminal justice issues, sponsored the event and called on UGA leaders to be accountable for decades of racist actions and to be transparent in engaging with the community to research and redress the wrongs.
The event culminated on the steps of the Hunter-Holmes Academic Building beneath a banner “honoring those who broke down barriers and transformed UGA” in celebration of 60 years of desegregation.
A few years after integration, town and gown leaders conspired to take Black-owned property and make way for dormitories on Baxter Hill. Bobby Crook poignantly recalled his boyhood memories seeing the 50-yard line of Sanford Stadium from the window of his family home before they were forced to surrender their land to be razed by the university.
John Vodicka of the RJTF Athens Court Watch Project traced the abusive legacy of the toil of enslaved people in the earliest days of Athens and UGA to convict labor leased to clear the land to build Sanford Stadium in the early 1900s and the present-day annual “savings” of up to $130,000 realized via the unpaid work of inmates at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville on experimental onion farms by the the Agriculture Department.
Worker’s rights were also highlighted. 44% of UGA’s Black employees earn less than $15 an hour or the equivalent of $30,000 annually for full time employment. RJTF partner Broderick Flanigan with the Economic Justice Coalition emphasized the need for a living wage sufficient to sustain individual workers in Athens.
The narratives woven together by students, staff, faculty and community activists paint a picture that falls far short of the racial justice transformation claimed by UGA leadership. Oconee Street continues to partner with these organizations to work towards a truly just future.