When two people sit down to have a conversation, that builds relationships. Even if they disagree about the issues, each person could begin by telling their story. Who among us doesn’t like a good story? Fascinating stories like the one about the Freemantown community. Compelling stories such as the one about “Aunt Martha” Pearl Freeman.
Americans are a people who appreciate their past. I was never so proud of Rome, Georgia, as when I learned of a particular celebration of Black History Month.
Several years ago, Rome’s NAACP celebrated Black History Month with a dedication of the cabin where Freeman lived.
Martha Pearl Freeman was a domestic worker employed by Martha Berry and her family from the early 1880's. In post Civil war years, it was significantly frowned upon to keep slaves on as domestic employees after the war. It is, therefore, unlikely that Aunt Martha ever was a slave to the Berry family.
When Aunt Martha came to work for the Berry family, Martha Berry was in her teens. Well over a hundred years old when she died, Aunt Martha worked for the Berry family until her death in 1951.
Located on the mountain campus of Berry College, this self-sufficient community of freed slaves existed from the early 1880s to 1926. William “Thomas” Freeman, a slave who was freed at the close of the Civil War, founded the community.
Many people are under the impression that Aunt Martha was related to Thomas. However, there is no evidence to support that she was related to anyone at the settlement.
Thomas’s brother, Sanford P. Freeman and Thomas’s children: Essex, Josephine, Nick, Lindsey, William Jr., Mingo, Fanny, Henrietta, Emma, Bulah, Clinton, Ford, Thomas and Fredonia all inhabited the town.
Maddox. Hendrick. Rogers. Montgomery. Sanford. Jones. Riles. All families who resided in Freemantown and helped maintain the community.
This Appalachian community of people were farmers. I would treasure an opportunity to have a conversation with them and learn all about their families. If ever presented with such a fine opportunity, I would ask where did the children go to school? Who was their teacher? What were their Christmas traditions? How did they celebrate birthdays? Did any of them play the fiddle? Were there those among them who may have played practical jokes on the others? Were any of them gifted story tellers or writers? Who among them could draw or sketch well?
I am descended from the people who lived in the nearby community of Mountain Springs. Although I know many of their stories, I have these very questions about my ancestors … one of whom played the fiddle.
Ultimately, the young people left Freemantown, and only the elderly remained. Therefore, the Freeman family decided to sell their land. On Aug. 29, 1926, Martha Berry purchased their land.
Freemantown Cemetery is the only evidence of this historic community. Mrs. Beatrice Freeman Battey is the granddaughter of William Thomas Freeman. Pursuant to the sale of their land, she said:
"As they sold their land, they took only their possessions,
their memories of the lives they lived at Freemantown,
and the hope that their new life started elsewhere now
would be better. As the last inhabitants left a few days
after they sold their land, they looked back —
and all that was left was a cemetery.”
Next week we will observe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Best known for his leadership in the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King was a Baptist minister from Atlanta.
I began this column talking about conversation. Remembering and honoring our ancestors, and their stories, can be achieved through conversation.
Start a conversation about the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Have a dialogue about his vision and leadership. Consider Aunt Martha Freeman and talk about her. Have a discourse about the Freemantown community. Honor their lives. Respect and remember each of them as you tell their story. Their stories become our stores.
The dedication of Aunt Martha Freeman’s cabin honored her life and her legacy. Rome’s NAACP got it right.
Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, and welcomes your email to her at email@example.com.