The bell at the chapel at the University of Georgia’s North Campus has a rich history. Students “ring the bell” to celebrate after a big win in the fall or during graduation in the spring.
However, at the beginning of the university’s history, ringing the bell was a task slaves were forced to perform.
To recall that history, Jessica Douglas, student government senator, proposed a resolution to honor and memorialize enslaved peoples at the university. She wants a plaque or land marker to be placed near the bell tower to remind and educate students and visitors of the university’s past.
Most important, she hopes it serves as a piece to honor Dick Cary and Sam Harris Watkins and other slaves who are documented as bell ringers.
Passing of the Proposal
UGA’s Student Government Association Senate passed the proposal on March 5, agreeing to build a monument on North Campus honoring slaves that worked on the campus and were forced to ring the bell. This is part of the university’s involvement with the national Universities Studying Slavery project.
Southeastern schools such as the University of Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and others are participating in this project.
George Mason University, Harvard and Yale are also on the list of colleges that have started memorials, dedications and programs to recognize their past with slavery.
Some students believe this recognition is long overdue. They believe that the university does a great job of honoring faculty and alumni, but not the “people that actually put the work in,” Mary Jones, a sophomore, said.
Baldwin Hall Memorial
A memorial was presented at Baldwin Hall last November. It is located on the south side of the building as a place of reflection.
Remains were found during construction at the site in 2015. State archaeologists determined that some of the remains were that of slaves, and those remains were taken to an Oconee cemetery in 2017.
The Baldwin Hall dedication had an advisory task force that included members from the school and community.
However, citizens of Athens and UGA students protested during the memorial dedication because they did not have a say in the way the memorial was completed. Jessica Douglas, author of the proposal, said task force did not consider enough community and student input, which was why the protest occurred.
Douglas said, “we will include the community every step of the way,” in this new project. She said she believes this will “prevent them from those feelings of not being included in the process.”
The official representation has not been decided upon yet. The administration of the university has the most influence on this memorial. The senate must continue to meet with the executive board and UGA administration to create a plan of action.
The bell will not be renamed in any way. It will only be dedicated in the honor of the people who were forced to ring it long ago and remind the public of the university’s past with slavery.
Majesti Bass is a senior majoring in journalism.