Letter to the editor:
Recognizing UGA’s History of Slavery
Deuteronomy 24:18: “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Therefore, I command you to do [justice].”
This week we observe Passover, a time to reflect on our slavery in Egypt and celebrate our freedom. As Jews in Georgia, we can also take the time to reflect on the atrocities that occurred in this place: the haroset reminds us of the forced labor at the foundation of our institutions; the matzah reminds us of the treacherous passage to freedom; and the bitter herbs remind us of the atrocity and enduring trauma of slavery.
Passover is a way of connecting to our ancestors by ritualistically reenacting the conditions of their oppression, repeating our history to ensure it is never forgotten, and affirming our commitment to the liberation of all people. This is what calls us to speak on an ongoing incident at the University of Georgia, a place where many readers of the AJT may have experienced their first seders away from home.
In November 2015, a construction project at the University of Georgia was stalled by the discovery of human remains. Bioarcheological testing confirmed that these were the bodies of enslaved people. Their descendants who continue to live in Athens expressed concern with how the situation was being handled and attempted to provide suggestions on how the university should proceed.
Rather than listen, the university systematically excluded them from the discussion, even going so far as to exhume and rebury the bodies without notifying the community, leaving a descendant to watch from behind a locked gate. The university elected to bury the remains at Oconee Hill cemetery, a segregated cemetery, as opposed to one of the community’s black cemeteries. Linda Davis, a member of the Athens-Clarke County School Board, explained this meant that they, “were going to be buried at the feet of the people who owned them.”
All this, as well as additional misconduct by university officials is documented in this recent Faculty Senate Report and the student documentary “Below Baldwin.” It is well-documented that enslaved people were instrumental to the formation of the University of Georgia.
We ask that the university issue an apology and work with members of the community to properly honor the dead and recognize the legacy of slavery at the University of Georgia.
To the descendants of these people we say, “may their memories be a blessing.”
Mallory Harris and Dr. Tarece Johnson, Atlanta
Letter to the editor:
What bearing do Israeli elections have on achieving peace? Palestinian leaders have flatly rejected or ignored peace proposals offered by left-wing Ehud Barak (2000/2001), centrist Ehud Olmert (2008), and right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu (2009). The unilateral withdrawal of all Jewish communities and Israeli troops from Gaza (2005) resulted only in increasing attacks on Israel.
Sadly, the Palestinians do not seek a state co-existing peacefully with the nation-state of the Jews. They want a Palestine which has been ethnically cleansed of Jews and an Israel which has been overrun by millions of people classified as refugees under the rules of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) rather than those of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), which considers a five-year stay in a refugee camp to be “protracted.”
The Palestine refugees (as UNRWA calls them) have been raised on a steady diet of anti-Jewish invective in societies which highly honor and richly reward people who have murdered Jews. The first step toward achieving true peace is for the Arab nations, which prevented the emergence of the first-ever-to-exist Arab State of Palestine, to absorb and uplift the Palestine refugees, just as Israel did for Jewish refugees from Muslim countries.
Toby F. Block, Atlanta