ATHENS PROTEST HISTORY WEEK
December 14 - December 18, 2020
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" (U.S. Constitution, Amendment I).
Historic Athens officially announced Athens Protest History Week earlier this week. We aimed to tell the story of how collective movements have shaped Athens into the beloved community it is today. With the surge of protests seen over the summer, we wanted to examine how protests have impacted and defined our community heritage. We've partnered up with Athens Politics Nerd, an independent news agency, which has been covering political issues in Athens since 2019. Chris Dowd, founder of Athens Politics Nerd, has been on the frontlines of major protests in Athens. Our partnership has given us a first hand glimpse into the protest scene, and to any subsequent changes that have been made.
For the past six months, we have spent countless hours researching how protest have impacted the community. It's incredible how much we uncovered because change has occurred when people come together and demand change from corporations, government officials, and campus administrators.
In Athens, GA, people have made national movements local. An example of such movements includes the Vietnam War protests in the late 1960's and the modern Black Lives Matter movement. At Historic Athens, we believe it’s important to preserve this monumental history because we want to inform future Athenians of the progress we have made. For the past five days, we have presented you with protests that we believe has defined Athens history. Scroll down for the spreadsheet and more information about the individual protests.
Edward Wright Protests
In 1995, Edward Wright, a 20-year old Black man, was killed by an Athens-Clarke County police officer. This significant event led to protest on the treatment of Black Americans not only in Athens, but across the country. In the aftermath of the event, ACCPD hired its first African-American police chief, instituted new community-oriented policing policies, and required all officers to take crisis intervention training. Five investigations took place in the aftermath of his death, but officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing. Several years later, his family planned the Edward Wright Memorial Afrocentric Festival, which included open-mic performances by Split, Earth Collective, and more. To the right, we have included media coverage from the 1995 shooting, investigation, and trial.
Disability Movement at UGA
Before 1988, buildings on UGA’s campus lacked the necessary accommodations for students with physical disabilities. That year, sophomore David Bliss crawled up the stairs of the Academic Building (today's Holmes-Hunter Academic Building) to protest these architectural and planning limitations. In response to Bliss’s actions, UGA President Charles Knapp named a Disability Task Force to establish a Disabled Services Office on campus, review paratransit services, and investigate the areas on campus that needed immediate action to serve students with disabilities. By 1990, the Task Force, charged with assessing the Section 504 plan to provide guidelines about making UGA’s campus more accessible, reported that 26 buildings widely used by students, faculty, and visitors were inadequate for students with disabilities. The University Physical Plant office renovated these structures, however only did so on the first floor of each, causing students to demand more change, accountability, and complete accommodations for all students.
Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement
The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement has been at the forefront of racial justice protests in Athens since Mokah Jasmine Johnson and her husband, Knowa Johnson established the group in 2016. Since the founding of the organization, AADM has raised awareness of racial justice issues in Athens, successfully protested for the replacement of the Confederate monument that was located in Downtown Athens, advocated for ACCPD reform, and marched for recognition and redress of the unearthed human remains found under Baldwin Hall. On Monday, Dec. 13, 2020, Tommy Valentine, Executive Director of Historic Athens, interviewed Mokah Jasmine Johnson about her role in community organizing. The link will be below.
The COVID-19 pandemic single-handedly stopped the world this year, but when the University of Georgia decided to open in person for the Fall 2020 semester, then remain open as positive cases increased, students protested the decision. The United Campus Workers of UGA coordinated a "die-in" in front of the Administration Building gained national media attention. The protest was motivated by the first death reported among UGA employees.
Click below to read APN articles!
Immigration protests in Athens have been a successful agent for change that has come in waves. Organizations such as Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition (AIRC) and Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens (DIA) have demanded justice for undocumented immigrant communities in a variety of ways. Most notably, the groups challenged the ACC Sheriff's Office to stop cooperating with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy of holding inmates for 48 hours after their criminal charges have been processed. More progress came when ACCPD changed its policy of arresting individuals for lack of documentation; undocumented immigrants can now drive safely with an alternate valid form of ID, and not fear arrest for not having a state-issued driver's license. In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting in 2019, the ACC Commission passed a resolution in support of undocumented immigrants in Athens, thanks to tireless work from AIRC and DIA. A lasting effect of recent immigration protests resulted in the election of John Q. Williams, who ran against incumbent Sheriff Ira Edwards in 2020 in defense of immigrant rights. To the left, images courtesy of Tony Walsh and Christina Matacotta who covered these protests in 2018.
Integration Protests at UGA
Atlanta classmates Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes dreamed of attending the University of Georgia but were denied admission based on their race. In September 1960, their legal team filed a lawsuit to pressure UGA into considering their applications stating, "[UGA] would have already admitted had it not been their race and color." Three days after their case closed in January 1961, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes became the first Black students admitted to UGA. More than 1,000 students and Athens residents gathered outside Hunter and Holmes’ dorm rooms to intimidate them. Just several days later, the Dean of Students pulled both aside and told them UGA was withdrawing them "in the interest of your personal safety and welfare of more than 7,000 other students at [UGA]." Hunter and Holmes returned to campus on January 16, 1961 after faculty members pressured the university administration to allow them back. Their legacy gave way for other universities in the deep South to desegregate, and today, the Hunter-Holmes Academic Building is named in their honor.
In researching this topic, the earliest anti-war protest our team found occurred during World War II, when students gathered to protest soldiers dying at the hands of the Axis powers. In the late 1960’s, the Vietnam War set a firestorm of protest across the country, particularly at colleges and universities. Here in Athens, student organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led the anti-war efforts on UGA’s campus. Students and Athens residents gathered to hold memorials of lives lost, and demand peace in the area by withdrawing troops and ending the war. Anti-war protests such as these make international and national events local, and give a voice for engaged citizens to protest for peace.
Anti-Trump Protests (2017)
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, community activists and Athens residents gathered to protest the election of Donald Trump. On January 20, 2017, more than 4,500 people gathered outside Athens City Hall to protest the newly inaugurated president and to show their support to communities whose lives were upended by the election. Activist and ACC Commissioner Tim Denson, was one figure looking to bring people together to resist the president’s actions. Students held a walkout and rally at the Tate Student Center to come together and take action. Over the next 18 months students, community activists, and local residents held get-out-the-vote efforts for the 2018 midterm election. They also raised awareness of issues such as women’s rights, immigrant rights, discrimination and racism. In 2018, Athens elected it’s most progressive commission and Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, was the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia.
Protests can help bridge divides, bring awareness to ongoing issues, and represent the wants and needs of groups within a larger community. In Athens, we have a history of advocacy that has helped foster an outspoken and representative community and left a legacy we continue to uphold.
Click below to watch the interviews!
By Matthew Pulver
By Chris Dowd