The University of Georgia School of Social Work’s primary educational and administrative spaces in Athens, Georgia, are located in a remodeled antebellum fabric mill once known as the Athens Factory. The factory was first built in 1832, on formerly Native American land, to turn slave-produced cotton and wool into cloth. The mill used a mixture of enslaved and free labor, including child labor, to perform the sometimes-dangerous work of carding, spinning, and weaving cotton. Cloth produced at the factory was widely distributed, and used by the Confederate Army and by planters to clothe the people they enslaved.
As we train our social work students to promote social justice and human well-being, it’s important that we recognize our building’s relationship to historic systems of oppression, including slavery, Indian Removal, and child labor. At the same time, it’s also enlightening to see how social work in Athens first emerged to meet the needs of children and families working at this and other local mills. Jane McPherson, a School of Social Work associate professor and Director of Global Engagement, is exploring these histories in a project she calls “Complex Cloth.” The website for this project with photo and video content can be found here: https://complexcloth.org/