Freemantown, GA

AARN has been engaged with the Freemantown Historical Foundation (FHF) and Angela James to coordinate organizing efforts around the preservation and reinvigoration of a community in Rome, Georgia. The city of Rome is the largest metropolitan area in Floyd County, Georgia. It is home to dairy farms, agriculture, a bustling downtown corridor, and the largest private college in the United States—Berry College. Berry has a history that is contested by the descendants of Freemantown. The ancestors of the FHF board members and Angela James had lived on land that is now owned by Berry College. There were two communities, Freemantown and Possum-Trot on sections of the land owned by Berry College.The local historical context surrounding the acquisition of thousands of acres of land by the schools founder is largely absent. The school has presented a public facing narrative that focuses on the mission of Martha Berry, founder, to educate poor children. As a result of initial engagement with the community AARN’s Director of Community Engagement and Strategic Planning (Corey Shaw Jr) and Director of Projects and Public Affairs (Erica Ivins) were invited to attend the Freemantown Family Reunion in Georgia. What follows is an account of their attendance.

Upon driving into Rome, Georgia, it was immediately clear that we were not in a traditional rural community. We had seen the rolling hills and mountain peaks that held dairy farms and corn fields. The surreal beauty of this place had initially captivated our hearts and minds. However, as we made it into the unincorporated community of Mt. Berry, the site of Berry College. Leading up to this trip we had heard extensively of the sheer vastness of the campus. No amount of discussion could have prepared us for the grotesque grandeur of Berry and its facilities. Arriving on July 21, 2023—the AARN team participated in the meet and greet at the Fairfield Inn Suites located adjacent to the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, which claims to be the largest hardcourt tennis facility in the United States. Interviews were conducted with two individuals.

Arthur Montgomery, descended from the Montgomery lineage, presented with extreme clarity and wisdom key elements of his family history. In accordance with the methodology employed by AARN, he began with his own early life and how he came to reside in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He recalled his research, documenting the sales of land with tax and deed records which indicated that thousands of acres were purchased for a small fraction of their worth. Mr. Montgomery went further and charted the trajectory of the family after the loss of the land. It was clear that he knew this history deeply. More importantly, it was clear that his role as an arbiter of the family history was appreciated and reinforced a deep love of family which was reciprocated during our conversation. As we talked, relatives began converging in the common area which, progressively, had grown louder. The laughter of the room paired with the joyous energy counteracted the despair and silent pain which enveloped the city. As Arthur continued chronicling his family’s story, the team was told another relative had arrived and wished to speak to us.

Elisa, a family descendant, spoke at length about how she came to learn the history of her family that resided at Freemantown. Highlighting the importance of the history, Elisa stressed the urgency for uncovering the history. What she notes, akin to the broader family’s general disposition, is that it is critical that the younger generation learns and understands the gravity of their family history. We concurred, as we were living witnesses to the spirit of perseverance, determination, and love displayed by every relative we met. 

On Sunday, we both attended the full reunion program at Berry College:

  1. Family Luncheon & Awards Ceremony
  2. Her Name was Hester Film Screening
  3. Prayer @ Freemantown Cemetery (at Berry College)
  4. Prayer @ Shelton Cemetery & Possum Trot Church
  5. Dinner & Sneaker Ball

The Luncheon was filled with camaraderie. The Board, which is represented by members of each family, welcomed family, friends, and university staff to the event. The history was synopsized and stories were told regarding the wealth of wisdom these lineages are endowed with. Amongst the family were their special invited guests: Sherre Harrington and Jennifer Dickey. Sherre Harrington was a faculty member at Berry until recently when she retired. Dickey was a full-time faculty member but now works for Kennesaw State University and works part-time for Berry College as their lead historic preservation consultant. Both women have been close allies to the FHF and have worked diligently and intentionally to preserve and uplift the histories of these families on the campus. We spoke with them at length and secured their commitment to sharing any historic resources they might have. Ms. Harrington made it clear that most of what she has is available in the previously created lib-guides. Ms. Dickey offered to connect us with local archives, the school librarian, and other data sources. As we spoke, they were called up to the deus to be honored amongst the family members who have fought to preserve this history. 

The film screening featured a white woman reckoning with her family’s own history of owning seven enslaved people; one of whom was named Hester. Hester was responsible for nursing all the children of W.D. Scoggins. Her Name was Hester presents a unique opportunity for collaboration, Haley Smith, featured prominently in the film is now Berry College’s Chief Diversity and Belonging Officer. She is involved with Hester’s Heritage Foundation which is born of the labor portrayed in the film. 

Both site visits to the cemeteries were incredibly moving and insightful. On one hand, the campus was simply breathtaking. Deer frolicked through fields and woods presenting an air of innocence and simplicity. As we left the Krannert Center bound for Freemantown, the veil of the campus’ mystique was slowly peeled back. Familiar names like Henry Ford adorned halls of the castle-esque buildings. Berry College’s Winshape Camp was in full swing, as campers parroused the wide expanse before them. Signage indicated that we were entering the “Berry College Refuge ” which was a Buffer zone to the 15,000 acre WildLife Management area where hunting is allowed.

As we processed the influx of information, we grappled with the manufactured frontier before us. The trees on either side of the road sheltered us from the harshness of the Georgia sun as we drove along lengthy rutted roads. As we arrived in Freemantown, the veneer of beauty began to peel away. There we were, in a historic African American burial site which had previously functioned as a horse pen as part of the Equine center at Berry College. Headstones had clear signs of erosion. The ground was littered with depressions and unmarked grave sites. We could feel the anguish. Yet, the atmosphere was not sorrowful. There, at Freemantown Cemetery, was our first inkling of what endowed the campus with its reverence and beauty. There, on contested lands, was the source of the sacred and hallowed spirit embodied in the promotion of Berry. Beyond the hill that rested behind the cemetery sat rolling hills which housed the enclave and family farms once known as Freemantown. As we departed, we waited eagerly to arrive at the Shelton Family Cemetery and the adjoining Possum Trot cemetery.

Once again, we were faced with the displays of wealth and power on our journey to another well spring of beauty. We drove around the campus until we reached a gravel road. As we turned onto the rocky terrain, we were presented with the heart of the equine center at Berry. On either side were rolling hills of plains and tall grass. In front of us, a tree line that seemed to hide the gems of African American history. Across streams and through wetlands, we journeyed a fair distance before emerging from the dense woods to see a tree sitting at the heart of a full circle dirt road. Across from the tree sat the original structure of Possum Trot Church. The church harkened back to stories told by our elders. As we entered, a military issue wood heater sat on the right of the sanctuary. Rows of wooden pews sat on either side of the structure and at the center, an integrated wooden pedestal and podium. The energy was unearthly as this small space stuffed with artifacts of a community that was long erased remained and seemed to stand with a certain pride. The cemetery, which sat on the backside behind newer additions to the church, was a kin to Freemantown. Small, partially enclosed, and filled with an energy that reached out for the souls of its visitors.

Similarly, both sites convey the same principle paradox. Berry College, the present home to these historic sites, is out of place. The grand display of the campus does not mix with the simplicity and wholesome intent of both Freeman and Shelton family settlements. And yet, Berry—seemingly as a matter of public relations—is engaging with the families and has made strides to addressing the minimum needs and desires of the families and their ancestors. The future of our engagement with the families must focus on verifying the studies conducted by Berry College on site, conducting ongoing archival research, and assisting in the realization of the 5-10 year plan.


AARN Podcasts

Please listen to AARN intern, Corey Shaw, and his podcast on Brown Grove Virginia. Brown Grove is a historic African American community whose roots dates back to 1729. For decades, this community has been faced with decades of Environmental Racism. Beginning with Interstate-95 in the ‘70s, Brown Grove is host to a number of heavy polluting industries. To name a few, Hanover County Municipal Airport, a cement plant, and a truck stop. The discontent had grown over the years. When Wegmans circumvented the community to build a distribution center, the community responded in force. Today, organized as the Brown Grove Preservation Group (BGPG), the community is advancing their quest for fundamental human right, a moratorium on further industrial development, and the respect and dignity that this historic community demands.


Descendants of the St. Louis University Enslaved (DSLUE)

DSLUE was formed by three Missouri family groups, descendants of people enslaved by the Jesuits and made to build and sustain Saint Louis University from 1823-1865. In 2021, these families came together to honor their ancestors, to preserve heritage and legacy and to seek reparative justice for the generational devastation that enslavement had on their bloodline. In other words, their mission is to commemorate, preserve, educate, and seek repair through the creation of a 501(c)(3) heritage preservation and cultural education association.

DSLUE is currently working on several initiatives that will aid them in their goals. In the coming weeks they will launch their website,, which will host historical data and analysis on St. Louis’ history of enslavement with support of scholars, Dr. Kelly Schmidt and Ayan Bashir, leading historians in the field of Jesuit enslavement. The website will act as a central location where people can learn about this history, ongoing research, genealogy, advocacy and current DSLUE initiatives, programs and events. There is currently a campaign designed to suppress the truth of the history of this nation, and DSLUEs efforts are to ensure that America’s true history is brought to the masses for generations to come. One of the ways DSLUE is working to bring awareness about their journey is the creation of a short documentary film called “Who Are The DSLUE,” and efforts to get funding for a full length documentary film are underway. The organization is also working on hosting its first annual DSLUE Family Heritage Week, kicking off June 11, 2022, offering opportunities for ancestral commemoration and memorization. 

DSLUE is working to bring together not only descendants of those who were enslaved during the Jesuit slaveholding diaspora, but other descendant communities, like those of Brown Grove and Tulsa, to support one another in their efforts for healing and for justice. 

AARN is proud to work alongside the Descendants of the St. Louis University Enslaved (DSLUE) on their efforts to secure reparations!


The Legacy of Colored School No. 4 with Eric K. Washington

In December, AARN published a letter urging the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission to act upon the Request for Evaluation of Colored School No. 4 for designation as an Individual Landmark.

This April, Eric K. Washington gave a talk on the topic, speaking on the legacy of former Colored School No. 4 in Chelsea. Eric K. Washington, an independent historian and author, endeavors to reconnect forgotten history to present landscapes through articles, talks and tours. His extensive work on Colored School No. 4 is a critical reminder of the City’s segregationist education policy and history, which is not yet widely discussed or well-understood.

“Colored” schools were the cultural centers of New York’s African American communities, and this school became a pillar to the immediate community. It also was integral to an informal network of other African American schools, churches, enterprises, missions and societies that anchored the growing Black enclaves of lower Manhattan. It is vital to preserve this last remaining “colored” school in Manhattan to commemorate African Americans’ heritage in the City.

Learn more in Eric K. Washington’s presentation here.


Mapping Updates!

We are happy to announce a few updates to our redress map. Notably, we have added reparation subheadings under each entry to provide more details into the efforts. For example, while looking at examples of satisfaction-oriented redress, you can now see if it is an apology, acknowledgement, commemoration, or historical analysis (amongst others).

As well, 42 new entries were added, including a brand new section to the map: West North Central. Lastly, land loss and discrimination have now been added as historical injustices.

In the coming months, we will continue to add to the map, with a specific focus on placing the descendant communities at the forefront of redress efforts. You can find AARN’s redress map here.


Reparations 2022 Conference

On April 1st and 2nd, AARN participated in our 3rd Annual Reparations Conference: Reparations 2022!

Reparations 2022 brought together leading reparations advocates and activists to share strategies and strengthen efforts. The online program brought in over 100 participants, while the in-person cohort, which convened at Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, hosted 45 representatives from 17 municipal reparation efforts across the country. The conference was created as a collaboration between FirstRepair, African American Redress Network (AARN), and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

Participants commented on the quality and depth of panels, presentations, and conversations experienced throughout the conference. A conference report is forthcoming. This report will be co-authored by community members present both online and in-person.


AARN @ Undesign the Redline

On November 20, 2021, AARN participated in Barnard College’s Undesign the Redline symposium. Undesign the Redline @ Barnard is an interactive exhibition combining history, art, and storytelling with community outreach and collaboration in order to reckon with systemic racism by examining the legacy of redlining in Barnard and Columbia’s neighborhood.

Following efforts to map the history of redlining in Morningside Heights and Harlem to its present day legacies, AARN presented on how to remedy the redline. Using a human rights framework, Dr. Linda Mann, James Lennox, Corey Shaw Jr., Irene Jang, and Claire Choi explained the necessity of reparations for those who have been subjected to this redlining, and what such reparations may look like.

Watch the video now to learn more:


Reparations 2022 Conference

Reparations 2022 will bring together leading reparations advocates and activists to share strategies and strengthen efforts. The online program will take place April 01, 9:00am to 4:30pm EST and April 2nd, 9:00am to 4:00pm EST. The in-person cohort will convene at Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, DC with 45 representatives from 17 municipal reparation efforts across the country. The conference was created as a collaboration between FirstRepair, African American Redress Network (AARN), and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

The online conference agenda is provided below. This will be a powerful and inspiring conference. We hope you can attend as many sessions as possible.

To register and participate, please sign up using the following link: See you there!


Descendant: An Africatown Documentary

In 1In 1860, two white men sailed to Africa with the intention of kidnapping Africans and bringing them back to Mobile, Alabama without anyone finding out. Margaret Brown’s new film “Descendant” tells the story of these men, their “success,” and more importantly, the 100 enslaved peoples that were brought to America on the Clotilda ship long after the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves was signed. The film traces the ancestry of current residents of Africatown, Mobile, Alabama, and provides these descendants with the opportunity tell their stories and the stories of their family and community, since the time of the Clotilda. 

“Descendant” aired at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and was recently purchased for distribution by Netflix and the Obama production company Higher Ground. The film promises to address Black erasure, both in its content and in its mere existence. This movie is a breakthrough in knowledge and education, and will hopefully pave the way for more research to be done on the lives of enslaved people and their descendants.

Local officials have failed to publicize the film, vastly ignoring the mass praise the film has received–despite Brown, “Descendant” creator, being a resident of Mobile, Alabama herself. In order for this film to truly succeed in counteracting centuries Black erasure, it is necessary for local leaders to embrace present efforts to recognize the horrors of the past.  

The movie focuses on one central question: how can we best remember our past? AARN is currently working with Africatown to establish a walking tour of the cemetery, another means by which to tell the stories of those who were brought to Mobile against their will. For more information, visit our page on technical assistance.


Brown Grove, Virginia Call to Action

From The Brown Grove Preservation Group.

This is your opportunity to let your voices be heard! We ask that you please help us protect surrounding communities and the public who use these roads by submitting a letter to VDOT. We encourage the public to provide comments in support of changing the recommendations for Peaks and New Ashcake Roads to “Recommended for Approval” and to reiterate the need for restrictions on Ashcake and Atlee Station Roads. Written comments are due no later than Thursday, Dec. 16th, 2021. All comments will be reviewed through the VDOT chain of command, with the ultimate decision to be made by the commissioner.

Please click on the link to sign a template letter or you can write your own. It’s your choice!

We thank you for your time!


Bringing the Darkness to the Light: A Lantern Walk for Africatown, AL

During the past month, AARN has been meeting with Major Joe Womack who is a retired Marine, a resident of Africatown, and an alumnus of the Mobile County Training School, and Anderson Flen who is also an alumnus of the Mobile County Training School and a former resident of Africatown.

Africatown was founded by enslaved people from Africa who were illegally brought to the United States (US) on board the Clotilda. The Clotilda was the last transatlantic voyage of enslaved peoples to arrive to the US in 1860. Federal law made it illegal to transport captive people from Africa to the US in 1808. Meaher, who had chartered the schooner, successfully avoided federal arrest and individuals were separated and enslaved upon arrival to the shores of Mobile, Alabama.

Five years later, following the close of the Civil War, approximately thirty of the enslaved ship-mates reunited. They desired to return to their homeland, but were unsuccessful. The ship-mates pooled their resources to purchase land and established African Town, now known as Africatown. The community members self-governed similarly to their homeland including a chief and two judges. They erected a church and school. They advocated for their rights and fought to vote. Several members even sought reparations for injuries or as pensions for freed people. Africatown remained self-governed until 1960.

One of the historical traditions of Africatown was the annual Lantern Walk. This walk was held yearly to pay homage to the Elders and Ancestors of the Clotilda. Last held in the late 1950s, this historical tradition is about  healing, growth, and remembering. As Anderson notes, ‘the lantern walk is about getting the young people to understand we didn’t do this alone, we need to honor where we came from.” The Mobile County Training School Alumni Association is working to restore this significant historical ceremony with support from AARN and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

On January 3, 2022, AARN and ICTJ plan to meet with Africatown descendants and community leaders to learn about their vision for recreating the lantern walk and developing a walking tour of their community. The Lantern Walk will be completed by June 2022. High school graduates will take part in the traditional ceremony and complete the lantern walk at the Old Plateau Cemetery, the final resting place of enslaved Africans, African-Americans, and a Buffalo Soldier. Anderson Flen’s theme of the Lantern Walk is “Bringing the Darkness to the Light.”


Brown Grove, Virginia residents give testimony to stop the destruction of their community

On December 2nd, Brown Grove and Hanover residents provided arguments against any truck, or truck and trailer traffic along the roads of their community. The hearing was in response to the increase in traffic expected as a result of the Wegmans distribution center. This 1.1 million square foot facility will require an estimated 2800 vehicle trips daily. The resulting environmental harms will add to existing injustices from the local airport, cement manufacturer, truck stop, and I-95. Please listen to community testimony at 27 minutes to 1.06 minutes.


Heirs property research

by James Lennox, AARN Student researcher

For the past semester I have been working on independent research study on heirs property. Heirs’ property refers to instances when there is no clear title or deed. This research has been performed in collaboration with AARN and Reparations4Slavery. Reparations4Slavery is a group out of Denver, Colorado, that focuses on involving white people in the process of reparations. One of the ways they do this is through their online portal that chronicles the history of racism in America, as well as modern forms of institutionalized racism that continue to harm Black communities across the country. My research will be used to update their portal on Black land loss, with a specific focus on heirs’ property. In addition, AARN is creating a repository of oral histories to chronicle reparation efforts.

I have been fortunate to perform oral histories with a wide range of individuals including victims of black land loss, a white reparationist, and an attorney with a focus in heirs’ property law. These interviews were a valuable experience that shaped my understanding of Black land loss and the forms of institutionalized racism that continue today.

Image credit: Ranells, N. (Aug. 31, 2021). NC Cooperative Extension, Wills & Heirs Property: Protecting Black-Owned Land.


Undesign the Redline @Barnard Symposium

On November 19th – 20th, Barnard College held a symposium, Undesign the Redline. Researchers, organizers, artists, and activists convened at the conference deconstructing the history of racially discriminatory zoning in American cities. Panelists discussed the intersections between residential segregation and education inequity, environmental racism, technology, and the roles that art and storytelling play in preserving and reclaiming the histories of redlined communities.

AARN opened the second day of the conference with Reparations: Remedy the Redline, a session devoted to examining the ways that local reparations efforts may begin to redress the harms experienced by segregated Black communities. Panelists included AARN Co-Founder Dr. Linda Mann and student researchers Claire Choi, Irene Jang, James Lennox, and Corey Shaw. Beginning with a discussion of the necessity of reparations under international human rights law and AARN’s model of repair, panelists then turned to two of AARN’s partnership projects as case studies: Brown Grove, Virginia, and Evanston, Illinois. 

In Brown Grove, AARN has provided legal and capacity-building support to local activists defending their community against industrialization and erasure. Presenters discussed the importance of oral history and multidisciplinary, community-centered advocacy in combating environmental racism.

Turning to AARN’s data-driven research, panelists then discussed the case of Evanston, Illinois, which made history this year as one of the first cities in the nation to implement local compensatory reparations legislation. In Evanston, AARN collaborated with former 5th Ward Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons to conduct an impact study establishing the history of discriminatory housing policies implemented by the city and enduring harms to Black Evanston residents. Currently, AARN is in the process of conducting an economic calculation of the positive impacts of reparations on Black wealth accrual.

The presentation concluded with panelists sharing reflections about their work with AARN. To learn more about the Undesign the Redline symposium and exhibit, visit


The Brown Grove Empowerment and Strategic Planning Retreat

This past weekend, AARN with support from the International Center for Transitional Justice hosted a two day retreat for the community of Brown Grove, Virginia. Starting on Saturday, November 6th, the community engaged in powerful reflection on their history and the work they have done thus far. As a collective, they centered their principles in their organizational structure. Among all else, they are driven by the pride they feel for their history and their desire to preserve what their ancestors fought to protect . 

On the final day, the Brown Grove Preservation Group defined their future—laying out their visions for all that is to come. Their ambitions for the future paired with the principles at the heart of their efforts attracted several local and state organizations looking to collaborate (VEJC, RASR, & many more). At the outset of the retreat, the community of Brown Grove is in a much better position to capitalize on the momentum they have already built.