- “Up, Up With Education, Down, Down With Segregation”
On September 5, 2017, I stood with friends and neighbors in a rally for undocumented youth in downtown Athens, Georgia. Earlier that day, President Trump had rescinded the Obama-era Executive Order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that provides temporary protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Despite the accomplishments of DACA, in Georgia, students who have DACA, Temporary Protective Status, or are undocumented, are ineligible for in-state tuition and are prohibited from attending the top public universities, including the University of Georgia (UGA). The rally filled the steps leading up to UGA’s iconic “Arches” that adorn the University’s entrance. These steps are the prime location for protests in Athens because it is where the University, the town, and several episodes of local history join. Directly behind the Arches, the first building inside the campus is the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building, which was renamed in 2001 to honor the 40th anniversary of the University’s integration when Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were the first African American undergraduate students to enroll in classes. Without honoring the Cherokee people who resided on the land that the campus now occupies, a marker next to the Arches from the Georgia Historical Society spells out the University’s founding. The plaque acknowledges the role of students and staff in the “War for Southern Independence,” complementing a monument to confederate war dead dating to 1871 that sits on a median in the middle of the street directly across from the Arches. The contradictions between the historical moments memorialized at the University gates was palpable as the crowd chanted “up, up with education, down, down with segregation” against UGA’s effective ban on un(der)documented students.
I have held vigil on these steps more than ten times since moving to Athens in 2016 to begin my PhD program, yet at each protest I am ever more aware of the possibility of reactionary violence from counter protesters or observers. “It’s not the same since Charleston and Charlottesville,” warns an organizer and friend, in reference to the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the bloody, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The latter event, to which this special issue responds, followed the decision of the Charlottesville City Council to remove a statue of a confederate general and sparked a national discussion about the way we tell history, whether our practices of memorialization represent who we [End Page 28] are, and who we want to be. The connections drawn between the messages of the Unite the Right rally and the “clear thread of white supremacist thought in much of the [U]niversity [of Virginia]’s history” (Svrluga, Shapiro, and Larimer 2017) are important for all universities to consider given their historical-geographical position and on-going role in processes of colonization, racialization, and citizen formation in the United States (Chatterjee and Maira 2014).
Within the context of the national discussion on memorialization arising after Charlottesville, I am interested in the geographies of speech, the construction of a public, and how the telling of history is curtailed on a segregated campus. While many universities across the United States have taken steps to research, record, memorialize, or begin to atone for their involvement in slavery and the slave trade, the history of racialized exclusion at UGA remains largely unexamined. I trace this history through which racialized peoples and struggles were positioned as being outside of or separate from the University to consider two interrelated episodes. In the first, I explore how “free expression zones” function to silence protest against the ban on undocumented students at UGA. In the second, I examine how the recent unearthing of a slave burial ground on UGA’s campus challenges the official memorialization of University history. I also consider how community members, faculty, staff, and students draw attention to narratives of struggle in UGA’s historical account and work to redefine and broaden the publics to whom the University is addressed. In the process, University affiliates can begin to break down...