"When we love the earth, we are able to love ourselves more fully. I believe this. The ancestors taught me it was so." - bell hooks, Touching the Earth
humans and nature are instrinsically linked.
Stories of the Land
Newman Wetlands Center and the surrounding Clayton County Water Authority land are rich in natural history. The land also holds deeply embedded cultural memories. Though we will never know all of what our land has witnessed, we believe it is essential for us to share the stories we do know. This is especially true as much of Metro Atlanta is developed and cultural stories are lost along with natural habitats. Below are a couple of our favorite stories to share or you can watch the video linked on the yellow button above.
The Freeman Family
Anderson “Pap” Freeman, Sr. was born in 1830 in Spalding County. He was enslaved and sold to a landowner in Clayton County. He lived and worked in Clayton County after emancipation. He fathered 13 children, several of whom bought land along what would become Freeman Road and along Babb’s Mill Road in Henry County. They homesteaded here, growing food and cotton crops. Visitors can see remnant farming equipment and terracing as they hike Boardwalk Loop Trail.
In 1906, Freeman proposed they host the first annual Freeman Family Reunion, a tradition that continues today. The original reunions happened nearby. A stone monument honors this tradition at our entrance, listing the first two generations of Freemans. Eventually, the Freemans sold most of their land holdings along Freeman Road and nearby Babb’s Mill Road but their descendants continue to visit to reconnect with their heritage.
Camp J. K. Orr
Camp J. K. Orr, a Boy Scouts of America Camp for Black Scouts in District 10, opened in 1940 on the land just up the hill from Newman Wetlands Center. Camp Orr was named after local philanthropist, Joseph K. Orr, after he proposed that his Masonic Lodge purchase 541 acres of land for that purpose. The Camp was also used by local Girl Scouts for camping experiences. There was a lake, a kitchen, an obstacle course, and platform bunkhouses. Scouts learned to build a fire, cook, shoot, swim, and much more.
Camp Orr provided a safe, fun space for Black children to connect to the natural world, learn life skills, and enjoy the freedom to just be kids. This was remarkable given that access to nature experiences was often restricted based on race during the time. Camp Orr closed in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act passed and the Boy Scouts of America integrated another local camp.
We plan to continue conserving Newman Wetlands Center with hopes that generations to come can build their own relationship with the land.
Camp J. K. Orr photos sourced from the Edward Randolph Carter and Andrew Jackson Lewis collection, Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System. Freeman photos graciously shared by Virginia Freeman.