The former residents of a Black neighborhood on the outskirts of the University of Georgia (UGA), whose land was taken through eminent domain, are seeking redress from the school.
Linnentown was a Black neighborhood until the 1960s when the city of Athens, where UGA is located, claimed eminent domain, the right of a government to expropriate private property for public use, to purchase 22 acres using federal funds, and sold the property to the state board of regents.
According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Linnentown residents were pushed out, and the land was used for three dormitories on UGA’s campus.
“They wanted to expand for parking lots and dorms on the backs of Black families, and Blacks couldn’t even get into UGA,” Thomas Whitehead, the president and community outreach coordinator for the Linnentown Project, told AJC.
Eminent domain has been widely used across the country to take land for urban renewal during the 1960s and is one of the contributing factors to Black and minority homeownership rates being so low in the U.S. today. Examples of eminent domain used to gobble up minority communities include Chavez Ravine, where the L.A. Dodgers play, and Bruce’s Beach in California, which was recently returned to its owners.
A group of six former Linnentown residents started the project and scored a small victory in February when the Athens-Clarke County Commission unanimously supported a sweeping resolution calling the situation “an act of institutionalized white racism and terrorism,” and establishing the Linnentown Justice and Memory committee, which is working on a Black history center.
The commission has also pushed through a plan for Athens-Clarke County employees to receive a $15 minimum wage. Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz apologized for Linnentown’s destruction and said the resolution represents “commitment to creating better lives for Black Athenians.”
According to Whitehead, around 40 Black families lived in Linnentown, and the majority of its Black residents owned their homes. While Whitehead believes the measures taken are a positive first step, others say it’s not enough.
State law prohibits monetary reparations to former Linnentown residents using state or local money, but the Linnentown project is now putting pressure on state legislators to change the law. The project has written letters to both Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnockand Jon Ossoff asking for assistance.
Since the resolution in February, the former Linnentown residents have been waiting for more but have only heard silence from UGA, as school officials have ignored requests to meet with the group.
The AJC reports UGA officials told them questions about the land seizure should be directed toward Athens-Clarke County, which initially purchased the property, and the state Board of Regents, which still owns the property.