Remains Found At UGA Spark Controversy. Can It Start Conversation? | WABE 90.1 FM

Remains Found At UGA Spark Controversy. Can It Start Conversation?

Mar 20, 2017

The University of Georgia will hold a public ceremony Monday at 3 p.m. to rebury remains construction crews found while expanding a building on campus. The discovery of the remains has highlighted an emotional conversation in the Athens community.

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In late 2015, workers discovered 105 grave sites at Baldwin Hall, a campus classroom building. Of those grave sites, the remains of 30 individuals were preserved.

The UGA Anthropology Department studied the remains and found a majority of them probably belonged to individuals with African ancestry. The fact that the university had built over the bodies decades ago, and now planned to move them to Oconee Hill Cemetery, sparked controversy.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond grew up in Athens and has written several books about the history of African Americans in the city, including "Freedom: Georgia’s Antislavery Heritage, 1733-1865", for which he was awarded the Georgia Historical Society’s Lilla Hawes Award.

He said UGA has been silent about these issues.

“The beginning has to be the conversation, but at the same time, none of that can occur if we continue with this puzzling silence,” Thurmond said.

Michelle Cook, UGA’s Chief Officer of Institutional Diversity, said there have been conversations that have been going on for a while. She admits, however, that maybe not enough people know about them.

“A lot of good work is happening at the University in regards to some of these issues, but it doesn’t permeate into the larger African-American community,” Cook said.

There’s a forum scheduled on campus for Saturday called “A Conversation about Slavery at UGA and the Baldwin Site Burials.”

Valerie Babb, the Director of the Institute of African-American Studies at UGA, is one of the forum’s sponsors. She said, ultimately, students have more say in deciding what conversations to have than faculty members do.

“Universities are beginning to think of their students as consumers, and I think if there is more consumer demand, the university will satisfy it,” Babb said.

UGA’s Anthropology Department said it will continue to research the remains to learn more about their history.