This letter is being written to the Auburn Family to provide a point of view from Black Alumni on Sunny Slope, one of the documented former plantations that has a history with Auburn and members of the Auburn Family. It also is being written in hopes to educate current students, staff and faculty on one of the lesser known buildings associated with the enslavement of Black people in the Auburn and Tuskegee area.
Currently, Auburn University Outreach’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is housed out of this former plantation. For members of the Auburn Family who may or may not know exactly the purpose of OLLI, it is a membership program for ongoing learning for senior adults who are 50 years and older. From a historical point of view, Sunny Slope Plantation was owned by William F. Samford and his wife Susan Lewis Dowdell, the sister of the second Auburn University President James Ferguson Dowdell who also enslaved Africans. William F. Samford and his wife Susan are the parents of William J. Samford, from whom Samford Hall gets its name.
William F. Samford enslaved over 60 Africans on approximately 1700 acres at Sunny Slope plantation with seven or more slave quarters. Regardless of being a Black Alumni or just a Black person in general, this is viewed as free labor that allowed this plantation to generate revenue with an enslaved workforce. Even today in modern times, this former plantation is still generating resources via Tiger Giving Day for upkeep and program initiatives. There have been six Tiger Giving Days and documented donations towards OLLI at Sunny Slope Plantation have totaled $31,130 dollars (2021, $12,855; 2020, $10,375; 2019, $4,320; 2018, $3,580). So the question is, why is Auburn allowing branding and programming at a former plantation where at least 60 Africans were enslaved and undoubtedly were the ancestors of many African Americans in the Auburn community? Why not move OLLI to a modern facility that suits the needs and expectations of an all-inclusive senior community and not a plantation advertised as a lovely cottage that is reminiscent of past trauma and oppression to many in the Auburn community?
These are but a few of the many observations that Black Alumni have presented to the public, and are watching and waiting for some type of change from Auburn administration. Although several task forces have been established by the Auburn administration, established to address issues related diversity and inclusion, Black Alumni feel these issues need to be more forcefully addressed and escalated to more of a University priority of higher importance.
It’s time for a total culture change in the way Auburn University addresses these type of issues.
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