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Berry College installs a display about the black settlement of Freemantown

For Cheryl Freeman Snipes, the placement of a historical marker on Berry College’s Mountain Campus means the continuation of a legacy.

Snipes traveled from Redford, Michigan, for a ceremony Saturday to commemorate Freemantown, a late 19th century, African-American settlement on Lavender Mountain.

“It means that after over 100 years, Freemantown is finally being recognized for being a black, family-owned property at the time,” said Snipes.

A cemetery with a few headstones is all that remains of the post-Civil War community established by emancipated slave Thomas Freeman.

Snipes is the great-granddaughter of Samuel Freeman, Thomas Freeman’s brother. “My reason for recognizing it (is) for the sake of a black family owning — not being given — property. They purchased that property themselves.”

She said the Freemans allowed four other families — the Joneses, the Montgomerys, the Sanfords and the Rogerses — to live on the property and harvest off of it.

“In turn, they intermarried each other, so you have five families that are related by marriage some kind of way,” she added. “I don’t want the history to be destroyed. We will be continuing on the legacy. We don’t want it to disappear again.”

More than 50 people, many of them descendants of the original five families, attended a dedication ceremony for the marker hosted by Berry College.

They also got to see the remnants of the Freemantown Cemetery, which is normally off limits to the general public.

Tim Brown, director of Oak Hill and The Martha Berry Museum, said the historical marker memorializes Freemantown’s existence and points to the location of the cemetery.

Freemantown thrived in the early 1900s. Berry purchased the property in the late 1920s, long after any buildings were gone, Brown said. While Berry’s campus is home to several other cemeteries from old settlements on the land, Freemantown is significant.

“It’s important in Rome’s context because it is a documentable, historic, independent African-American community after the Civil War,” he said.

After years of research and connections with distant family members, Freemantown’s history has come alive.

Snipes has traced her ancestry back seven generations.

Jennifer Dickey, preservation consultant for Berry College, has been a major part of the school’s interpretive marker initiative, and she says she is most proud of the Freemantown marker.

“It is unique in that it is the only one of the more than 20 markers we have on campus that tells the history of what happened on the land before it became part of the Berry Schools,” Dickey said.

Berry College works with different organizations and trusts to get funding for the interpretive markers that have started to appear around campus since 2012.

The Freemantown marker was made possible through the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Staff writer Jeremy Stewart contributed to this report.