Roses by the Slave House | Chris Robey, MLA

I commend our Dean for issuing the CE+D’s Statement on Equality, affirming our college’s commitment to combating racial injustice and inequality, and sharing resources and stories highlighting our efforts to live out this commitment.


I am concerned, however, that we’re not talking enough about the complicity of our College and the professions within its purview in edifying the very same legacies and systems that have allowed state-sanctioned violence against black communities to continue unchecked in this country.


It is in the interest of holding the CE+D accountable to its commitment, and to bolster its efforts at doing so, that I’d like to share a story that I think should be told alongside those of our teaching, engagement, and research efforts.


You may be familiar with a university building at 570 Prince Avenue called the University of Georgia President’s House, also known as the Benjamin H. Hill House or the Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House. You may also know that our college’s founder, Hubert B. Owens, designed the rear gardens for this historic home as a part of its restoration following its acquisition by the University in 1949. Did you know, however, that these gardens are adjacent to a former slave house?


Jobie Hill is a preservation architect whose work centers on the documentation, restoration, and interpretation of slave quarters. In her 2013 master’s thesis, “Humanizing HABS: Rethinking the Historic American Buildings Survey’s Role in Interpreting Antebellum Slave Houses,” she identifies links between the body of documentation generated by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the recorded testimony of former slaves gathered for the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project. This work helped her to identify and better document slave quarters that had been previously overlooked by HABS fieldworkers, who by and large gave more attention to an antebellum-era property’s “Big House '' than they did to the slave quarters that stood behind them. The Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House is one of the sites she highlights.


As Hill writes, the house was built in 1855 for John Thomas Grant, who also owned and operated an extensive plantation in Walton County, and was used as a summer residence. Julia Cole Monroe, who was formerly enslaved by Grant, refers to the house specifically and confirms its purpose in her interview for the Federal Writers’ Project: “De old White house on Prince Avenue was deir [the Grants’] summer home. When dey built it, woods was all ‘round and dere warn’t many houses in that section.”


In the rear of the building, there is a Greek-Revival style cottage that Hill identifies as a slave house with room for up to five people—large enough for a family, she notes.


Image caption: The Greek-Revival slave house behind the Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House on Prince Avenue. Photograph included as part of the 1934 HABS survey conducted at the site. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS GA-120.


She also notes that the Slave Schedules included with the 1860 U.S. Federal Census list five slaves owned by Grant in residence at this property, who likely stayed in this small cottage—one man, two women, an infant girl and a baby boy. Their names are not listed, as was typical of these records.


The house and its outbuildings were documented by HABS in 1934 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Neither the HABS survey nor the NRHP nomination make any mention of the fact that enslaved people resided here.


The structure has been referred to in other accounts as an outbuilding, a rear house, even a “plantation type cottage.” The excerpt devoted to the site in Staci Catron and Mary Ann Eaddy’s book, Seeking Eden: A Collection of Georgia’s Historic Gardens, comes perilously close to the truth of the matter. They note “a small Greek Revival cottage” that stood on the original lots Grant purchased that was moved to make way for the main house. They even cite a passage from Frederick Nichols’s The Early Architecture of Georgia, in which he writes that, as was typical of antebellum “Big Houses” in Georgia, “the rear, or north side [of the house] was given over to kitchens, offices, service buildings, and slave quarters.” Yet in addressing the rear of the house themselves, Catron and Eaddy only manage a polite euphemism, writing that “the grounds behind the house were arranged in keeping with the rural character of the area.”


Hill does not shy from calling the cottage what it was, per its original purpose: a slave house. She also notes also that this wasn’t the only use for the building, which could easily be used to bolster the same excuses that have been proffered in objection to the burning of the Market House, an historic landmark in Fayetteville, North Carolina that was targeted by protesters on Saturday, May 30th for its past history as a slave market. Consider the following statements side by side:


Market House:“That wasn’t its only use. Slaves weren’t the only commodity bought and sold here.” Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House: This was a guest house. Plenty of other people stayed here over the years.”

Market House:“Slaves were sold as a part of estate liquidations, not daily auctions.” Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House: “Those slaves were house servants, not field hands.”

Market House: “The sales were infrequent, maybe once every two months.”“

Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House: “This was a summer home, not the plantation itself.”


Et cetera.


Such statements obscure historic fact and are frankly beside the point. Slaves were sold at the Market House. Period. Slaves were kept and forced to labor at what we now know as the University President’s House, and our college’s founder planted a rose garden next to their former quarters. Period.



Image caption: Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House, rear view, with Greek Revival slave house shown on the left side of the frame. Screen clipping taken from the site’s 1972 NRHP Nomination. National Archives, National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records: Georgia, Georgia SP President’s House.


Does this necessarily mean that these landmarks should be burned to the ground? No, though it is also not my place to comment on how black people choose to express their justified rage.


What this does provide is important context—context that, by now, should come as no surprise. We know of our university’s historic ties to slavery, which are still being investigated by a research team that includes a CE+D faculty member, Professor Scott Nesbit. We know that the bodies unearthed below Baldwin Hall were confirmed to be 19th-century African Americans who were in all likelihood former slaves, and we’ve seen the marker erected in front of Baldwin to commemorate them. We’ve walked by the Old Athens Cemetery every day that we’ve entered the Jackson Street Building. And we know about the remaining slave cabin (see p. 32) at Wormsloe.


This case stands out to me, however, for the way it illustrates not only the adjacency of our College but also the profession of landscape architecture as it has been practiced for most of its history. By and large, we’ve failed to acknowledge, much less honor, the cultural and historic context of the places we shape. By and large, we continue to make icons of educated white men who, while versed in the styles and tastes of the landed elite and adept at parsing out layers of ecological context, are remarkably aloof to the layers of history that constitute the human meaning of a place, in all it’s messiness.


A dive into the collection of Owens’s papers and photographs housed in the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, as well as other documentation of his role in the 1949 renovation, could be further telling. Was he even aware? Did he even know?




Image caption: Photo taken by Hubert B. Owens showing the rose garden he designed as a part of his broader revision of the rear grounds of the Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House. The slave house that Jobie Hill identified is the shaded structure on the left side of the frame. Hubert B. Owens Collection, Box 20, Owens Library, School of Environment and Design, The University of Georgia


My guess is no, it wasn’t even on his radar, because it clearly wasn’t on the radar of the fieldworkers who conducted the HABS survey in 1934 and it wasn’t on the radar of the authors and reviewers of the NRHP nomination submitted in 1972, most of whom, it is safe to assume, were white men.


I am also saying this as a white man who is guilty of the same aloofness in my own ways, and so am very much a part of the problem.


Again, this should come as no surprise. White people like me usually get away with fawning over an antebellum structure’s Greek Revival adornments without heeding the legacy of enslavement it is built upon.


Then again, maybe Owens did know, and maybe that legacy is so baked into the world he shaped and moved through that he still just went about his business thinking, “Well, that’s just the way it was back then.”


Of course, in that same world, Owens’s legacy is remembered and celebrated, while voices like Julia Cole Monroe’s are at best archived and forgotten until scholars like Jobie Hill, who is herself a black woman, bring them to light again.


As William R. Mitchell, Jr., who authored the statement of significance for the NRHP nomination, writes of the Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House, “as the [former] home of the President of the University of Georgia, it has unusual cultural, historical, and architectural significance for the entire state. It is a magnificently maintained symbol; a public monument; a work of architecture in the broad and profound senses of that term.”


I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. It is, indeed, another “magnificently maintained symbol” of the adjacency of our college and the fields of study it encompasses to the very same legacies we’ve committed ourselves to uncovering, which are the foundation of the very same systems we’ve committed ourselves to dismantling.


It should not be the onus of scholars of color to tell these kinds of stories while their white peers go on looking past them. As a college with an overwhelmingly white student body and without a single black faculty member, we need to step up, we need to pitch in, and we need to elevate the voices of scholars of color alongside further efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable CE+D community. As we do so, let us also remember that, while a baby step in the right direction, this is still the absolute least we can do.


You can learn more about Jobie Hill’s work on documenting slave quarters here. Other black scholars I have cited, had the opportunity to hear speak in person, and otherwise been inspired by in my first year of the MLA program include Tiya Miles, Joseph McGill, and Kofi Boone.





References.


“3. GENERAL VIEW OF OUTBUILDING - Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House, 570 Prince Avenue, Athens, Clarke County, GA.” Still image. Georgia -- Clarke County -- Athens. Accessed June 6, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.ga0077.photos.056236p.


Access Genealogy. “Slave Narrative of Julia Cole.” Accessed June 6, 2020. https://accessgenealogy.com/georgia/slave-narrative-julia-cole.htm.


Catron, Staci L., Mary Ann Eaddy, and James R. Lockhart. 2018. Seeking Eden : A Collection of Georgia’s Historic Gardens. The University of Georgia Press. Accessed June 7, 2020. http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat06564a&AN=uga.9949106761102959&site=eds-live.


Department of the Interior. National Park Service. (3/2/1934 - ). Georgia SP President’s House. File Unit: National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records: Georgia, 1/1/1964 - 12/31/2013, 2013.


FamilySearch.com. United States Schedule (Slave Schedule), 1860, Georgia, Clarke County, Athens pg. 216, John T. Grant. National Archives microfilm, publication M653. Digital Image. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYBR-SR4?i=15&cc=3161105&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AWKVW-2CW2. Accessed June 7, 2020.


Hill, Jobie. "Humanizing HABS: Rethinking the Historic American Buildings Survey’s Role in Interpreting Antebellum Slave Houses." Master's thesis, University of Oregon, 2013. http://proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu:80/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/docview/1426818983?accountid=14537.


Historic American Buildings Survey. “Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House, 570 Prince Avenue, Athens, Clarke County, GA.” Still image. Georgia -- Clarke County -- Athens. Accessed June 6, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ga0077/.


Owens, Hubert B.. "Garden (Grant-Hill-White-Bradshaw House, Athens, Ga.)." 1971-05. June 8, 2020. https://dlg.usg.edu/record/dlg_larc_hbo0729#item.








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