Disturbed: Portraits from Old Athens Cemetery

I am creating a collection of portraits of some of the 105 individuals whose remains were disturbed during construction in 2015 at Baldwin Hall at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. DNA testing and archeological evidence indicated that most of these people were of African descent, meaning that that were enslaved at the time of their deaths between 1800 and 1850. Not wanting to tarnish its image, the university was reticent about the discovery - it did not want to draw attention to the fact that the enslaved individuals were the very people that helped construct the campus. The archeological study also revealed that when portions of the cemetery were excavated for construction in 1938, an unknown number of graves and partial graves were unceremoniously removed and dumped at an unspecified location. The re-interment of the remains to a different cemetery was swiftly and quietly handled. This angered leaders in the local Black community, who had not been consulted. Student protests on campus have been ongoing, and a faculty report found fault in UGA's tonedeaf response. A short film, "Below Baldwin" was released in 2019 to help bring attention to the controversy and there was mention of the discovery in various news outlets, but the university has been largely successful in keeping the publicity to a minimum. The 400 page archeological report (https://www.architects.uga.edu/home/historic-preservation/archaeology) has been made available at UGA's website, but it is a dry, scientific report that blunts the profound awe and emotion of seeing the remains, revealed for the first time after nearly 200 years. As an employee of the archeological firm that exhumed and re-interred the bodies, I consider myself uniquely lucky to have witnessed the fascinating exhumation process as it unfolded over many months. As an artist, I hope to humanize these individuals and try and convey a little of how I felt to see our past emerge from the red clay. As a socially-conscious citizen, I would like to see the university acknowledge and come to terms with an uncomfortable history that it shares with the local African American community.

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© 2019 by Laura Floyd.

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