University Of Georgia To Rebury Remains Unearthed During Construction
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today, the University of Georgia pays tribute to human remains unearthed during construction of a campus building in the city of Athens. More than 100 graves could have belonged to slaves. Here's Bradley George of Georgia Public Broadcasting.
(SOUNDBITE OF SAWING)
BRADLEY GEORGE, BYLINE: Workers are putting the finishing touches on a new wing of Baldwin Hall. It should have been finished a year ago but construction stopped as UGA anthropologist Laurie Reitsema and her team searched for unmarked graves from the mid-19th century.
LAURIE REITSEMA: Some of them remained unexcavated because they were partially underneath the foundation of the building. And from the remaining graves that were excavated, 63 of them had some kind of human remains that we could actually observe and study.
GEORGE: Of the graves they DNA tested, most were black. Given the time period, many were likely slaves. But the university's announcements about the discovery made no mention of slavery. And the remains were put in a cemetery that was once segregated. Those decisions upset Fred Smith, former president of the local NAACP. He says UGA has failed to acknowledge its history with slavery.
FRED SMITH: They have a slave legacy. And let's deal with it from all points of view.
GEORGE: Michelle Cook is UGA's chief diversity officer. Her great-great-great-grandparents were born into slavery and lived in Athens their whole lives. She says the university had to follow proper procedure for reburying the remains.
MICHELLE COOK: And one of their recommendations was that the remains be reinterred in a cemetery close to the original burial site and with the capacity to accommodate the original configuration of the burial spaces.
MICHAEL TRINKLEY: Past practice would have been not to move these individuals at all.
GEORGE: Anthropologist Michael Trinkley is director of the Chicora Foundation, which restores abandoned gravesites and cemeteries.
TRINKLEY: The fact that these individuals are 50 years, 100 years, 200 years old to many does not reduce the trauma of the event of removal.
GEORGE: Not far from the construction site, Linda Davis is leading efforts to restore a cemetery used for decades by Athens' black community. She wishes the Baldwin Hall remains were reburied here, a reminder of the lingering effects of slavery and segregation.
LINDA DAVIS: I want us to not make a conscious decision to ignore our past because we don't like it. I don't like it either. But I cannot get past the strength and the conviction and the courage that it gives me to know that I am a descendant of survivors.
GEORGE: The University of Georgia says the 105 grave sites are re-interred individually under a granite marker that describes how they were found. For NPR News, I'm Bradley George in Athens.
(SOUNDBITE OF TERENCE BLANCHARD'S "MIDNIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.