UGA ceremony for Baldwin Hall remains set for Monday

In this file photo from January of last year, workers excavate a construction site at the University of Georgia’s Baldwin Hall where a number of grave sites were discovered. Remains discovered on the site will be reinterred at nearby Oconee Hill Cemetery. (File photo / Athens Banner-Herald/OnlineAthens.com)

The University of Georgia will commemorate the reburial of remains uncovered in a campus construction project in a ceremony set for 3 p.m. Monday in Oconee Hill Cemetery.

The afternoon should be sunny and warm, with a high of around 73, according to the National Weather Service forecast for Athens.

Rev. Winfred Hope, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church West, and federal Judge Steve Jones, a former Clarke County Superior Court judge and UGA School of Law graduate, will speak as UGA unveils a marker where the remains that archaeologists gathered from 105 burial sites at Baldwin Hall now rest. UGA President Jere Morehead will also speak, the university announced earlier this month.

The building is on land that was once part of the Old Athens Cemetery on Jackson Street, Athens’ main burial ground before the Oconee Hill Cemetery near Sanford Stadium opened in 1856.

Once a high school, Baldwin Hall, on a corner of Jackson and Baldwin streets, now houses the university’s School of Public and International Affairs and the university’s anthropology and sociology departments.

Workers discovered skeletal remains in November 2015 as a planned renovation and expansion project got under way. The university briefly put the project on hold and brought in an Athens archaeological firm, Southeastern Archaeological Services, to disinter the remains.

Construction work resumed in March 2016, but exhumation continued as what seemed like only a handful of graves at first eventually mounted to 105 unmarked burials.

Only 30 of the burials from the pre-Civil War Jackson Street cemetery where they’d originally been buried contained enough remaining human material for DNA testing. Of those tested, almost all were of African descent, and presumably the remains of slaves if they were buried there before the Civil War and the end of legal slavery in the United States.

The cemetery was officially closed after Oconee Hill opened in 1856, according to historical sources.

UGA revealed the results of the DNA testing in a March 1 news release announcing its plans to move the remains off campus to Oconee Hill, where they would be individually reinterred. A grave marker that gives “an account of their discovery and re-interment” will be revealed at Monday’s ceremony, said Greg Trevor, UGA’s executive director for media communications.

UGA’s announcement drew surprise and anger from some in Athens’ black community, although UGA did follow the state archaeologist’s recommendations in moving the remains to another site. The archaeologist recommended that the remains should should be moved to a nearby burial spot and kept together in as close to the original burial pattern as possible. Workers actually reinterred the remains earlier this month while the Oconee Hill Cemetery was kept locked

Some in Athens, though, thought the remains should have been moved to an historically African American cemetery founded after the Civil War, where they’d more likely be near possible descendants. There was also some thought in the community that UGA should have engaged Athens’ black community as they decided what to do with the remains.

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

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