Author Hattie Thomas Whitehead shares her voice

On March 7, Hattie Thomas Whitehead, author of “Giving Voice to Linnentown”, spoke to students at Cedar Shoals about growing up in Linnentown: a Black neighborhood dating back to the 1920s, located on the west side of Baxter Street that was demolished to become property for the University of Georgia where the current high rise student dormitories now stand. 

“Our parents did not know what was going on because no one came to the community to inform us. They did not know anything until this sign was right here. I remember this sign that was on Finley street in front of where those houses were torn down. It said, ‘The University of Georgia Urban Renewal and the Mayor-Council.’ So you had the two biggest institutions in the city of Athens partnering to gain control of our community [Linnentown],” Whitehead said. 

Before Whitehead’s visit, many students had not heard of Linnentown. Senior Tianna Seals says that while she had not previously known about Linnentown, she sees how current urban renewal projects in Athens attempt to turn longstanding homes and neighborhoods into student housing.

“They’re doing it to us too. They haven’t started, but it was said that they were talking about putting UGA students in there, kicking us out of the neighborhood. So it’s something I worry about,” Seals said.

Seals lives in North Grove Apartments also called Old Grove Road off of Old Hull Road. Seals say her parents got a letter in the mail from the landlord, reducing rent costs and explaining that they were thinking about placing student housing in their neighborhood. 

A 2014 market feasibility analysis for the North Grove apartments prepared by Real Property Research Group can be found in the Georgia Department of Community Affairs online database. The report suggests that the apartments were previously considered to be viable to become student housing, although the project did not move forward.

She says that from hearing about Whitehead’s experience and Linnentown she hopes to use her voice and write to her county commissioner. 

“I know that if it came down to me having to talk to my commissioner or the mayor then I would do that. I would write an email to them and let them know that we deserve to be heard,” Seals said. 

GIVING VOICES THROUGH READING: Students read the back of “Giving Voice to Linnentown” after hearing the author of the book speak. “I’m very excited. And I’m really glad to read it,” Seals said. Photos by Megan Wise.

Senior Justin Stovall says that Whitehead’s speech makes him want to be more aware of what’s going on in the community. 

“You have power in your voice and you should be able to make a change with your voice and make an impact in the community,” Stovall said.

Whitehead donated a class set of her book to the senior Multicultural Literature classes. Brent Andrews, who teaches Multicultural Literature, explains they plan on reading parts of her book along with Trevor Noah’s book “Born a Crime” as a part of their memoir unit. Andrews says that it’s important for students to hear from local people in their community who have gone through injustice.

“Still there’s this tendency to think that segregation was a long time ago and just meeting people who lived through it, whose lives were damaged by it, is really powerful. Just knowing that there are people out there walking around that are living full lives who have lived through segregation and integration.” Andrews says.

Andrews also wanted Whitehead to come and speak because of students who have had authorities trying to push people of color out of their neighborhoods due to student housing or urban development. 

“I think [hearing Whitehead’s experience] can give them hope that if they organize with people in their communities, and they figure out how to use the arms of government available to them, they can have the power to make an impact on some of these policies that are displacing what are historically black neighborhoods, low-income neighborhoods,” Andrews said.

Whitehead also hopes that students will learn how to fight injustice and become advocates for their communities.

“I think it’s going to be left up to you all to get it right. So that’s why I come and to speak. I came here today because I wanted people to encourage kids to know that you’re going to be voters, you’re going to be out of here. Use your voice when it comes to obstacles,” Whitehead said.

Lilly McGreevy

Sophomore Lilly McGreevy is the Assistant Features Editor for BluePrints Magazine. She hopes to pursue a career that involves the outdoors or go into criminal law. McGreevy loves to read and plays soccer for the Lady Jags. This year, she would like to improve her interviewing skills and finish pieces in a timely manner. Her favorite aspect of journalism is that it gives her the opportunity to engage with people outside of her classes and social circles.