In December, the site of a soon-to-be-built Georgia city quintupled. Earlier that year, jogger Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by white men whose arrests would take two months of protests and public pressure (USA Today). More than a dozen families purchased land to create a new city free of white supremacy in the aftermath of this atrocity. With the December addition, the site of Freedom, Georgia now comprises over 500 acres (Fox 5).
The Freedom Georgia Initiative springs from a “desire to create generational wealth for our families” in a place where “restoration, recreation, and reformation” are possible. The ability to conserve family resources and enjoy ample rest and recreation has been denied to generations of Black families. As an explicitly pro-Black city in an anti-Black nation, Freedom, Georgia hopes to be a new start (Complex).
Ever since Emancipation, Black land and property have been seized, looted, attacked, and, in the case of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Black Wall Street, firebombed from airplanes (American Prospect) (CNBC). In part, because it’s so hard to build intergenerational wealth without land, the average Black family has only 10% of the wealth of the average white family (USA Today). These practices have inspired generations of resistance. Freedom, Georgia, isn’t the first effort of its kind in the United States. It isn’t even the first initiative of its sort in Georgia.
In 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) started organizing against the disenfranchisement of Black people under Jim Crow laws in the South. But Black farmers who registered to vote in SNCC voting drives faced eviction by white landowners. For many people, homelessness was the price of political participation (New Communities). To learn more about how Black people have been pushed out of farming, see our piece on Agricultural Education.
SNCC co-founder Charles Sherrod and his wife Shirley realized that control of land was an essential part of Black liberation. In 1969, the Sherrods started a collective farm in Lee County, Georgia, where Black people could live and work on community-controlled land without fear of retribution from white landlords. This farm, called New Communities, was the first example of a model of collective land ownership for community benefit called a community land trust.
“It really gave me a sense that I can do anything,” said Bummi Anderson of her childhood growing up in New Communities. “It was a group of people coming together really with the same ideals, the same hopes, and dreams for their children. We were a product of that, and so we grew up having the same sense of pride on who we were as African-Americans” (NPR).
Today, community land trusts preserve collectively-controlled, truly affordable housing across the country (Schumacher Center). New Communities understood that we need control of our homes and neighborhoods to struggle for justice. Today, the Freedom Georgia Initiative is walking a similar road as they plan utility infrastructure before moving onto the design and construction of the new city (Insider).
Co-founder Ashley Scott says that today’s Freedom Georgia Initiative was inspired by the realization that Black life was threatened even in cities with Black mayors and police chiefs, such as Atlanta. Scott says, “It was clear that developing new cities was necessary because these old ones, even with strong Black leadership, have too many deep-rooted problems…We figured we could try to fix a broken system or we could start fresh. Start a city that could be a shining example of being the change you want to see” (Blavity).
Those involved in the Initiative are the first to acknowledge that the road ahead will not be easy. “It is a long game,” Scott told the Insider. “Nothing is changed overnight.” Fighting racism by leaving existing American communities behind entirely to attempt to create a new one from scratch may seem a drastic move. But it’s nothing compared to the ways America has enforced anti-Black racism, exploitation, and death for centuries. From the horrors of chattel slavery to the violence of Jim Crow, from the assassination of civil rights leaders to the police murders and mass incarceration of today, generations of efforts to reform American white supremacy have failed to put it to an end. In the words of scholars Darrick Hamilton and Trevon Logan, “The most just approach would be a comprehensive reparation program that acknowledges these grievances and offers compensatory restitution, including ownership of land and other means of production” (The Conversation). Reforming a society so constitutionally incapable of reckoning with its nature and history may well be more far-fetched than creating a brand-new city from the ground up.
Families are planning a new, pro-Black city called Freedom, GA.
The ability to build intergenerational wealth and safety has long been denied to Black families.
There is a rich history of Black liberation movements encompassing housing justice and land sovereignty.