“I hope it will be a thriving safe haven for people of color, especially black families,” says Scott.
The land is east of Macon in rural Wilkinson County, Georgia. Scott and her friend, investor and entrepreneur Renee Walters, didn’t originally plan to buy a large piece of land, but they had a clear vision – to create a safe space for their black families.
“To be able to create a community that thrives, that is safe, that has farms and businesses that support each other, and the dollars circulating in our community, that is our vision.”
A safe space
The unrest that gripped the country earlier this year following the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by the police and closer to home, the death of Ahmaud Arbery while jogging outside of Brunswick, Georgia, prompted the women to look for one new community, one that you could found yourself.
“It’s important to watch our people protest on the street and I want people to stay on the street and draw attention to the injustices of black people. We had to create a space and a place where we could have a village again a tribe, again, “said Scott.
“We wanted to create this safe space where we can raise our own problems and concerns.”
The two wanted to start an initiative to create a new city founded by black families.
“We both have black husbands. We both have black sons. And I was getting overwhelmed and scared when my husband left the house to go to work,” said Walters. “So, it was like, OK, what can we do? And when I saw the Toomsboro post go viral because a town was up for sale, I said, ‘Oh, that’s perfect.'”
Scott and Walters reached out to family and friends to find out who might be interested in joining their efforts. Together they founded the Freedom Georgia Initiative to drive the purchase. They hope to incorporate the land they bought into a new black town called Freedom, Georgia.
City for sale?
The ad Renee Walters saw circulated online promoting the Toomsboro Town sale. The ad eventually went viral.
Scott said she received a call when her friend found out about the sale. “She said Ashley, did you see that article on Toomsboro for sale? For the price of a small apartment, we could buy an entire town for $ 1.7 million,” Scott said.
“It’s one of the few places you can buy an entire city with all kinds of buildings, including a historic inn, a syrup mill, an opera house, a schoolhouse, a railroad depot, a cotton warehouse, a restaurant and a hair salon, a water wheel , a flour mill, a workshop, a gas station and several houses, “read the ad.
It turned out that the town itself was not for sale. Joyce Denson, the Mayor of Toomsboro, made this clear.
“I got calls from New York. I got calls from North Carolina. I got calls from California,” says Denson. “We welcome business. We want new people to come along. We want to make sure that you are promoting and helping the community taste it.”
After Scott and Walters found the town itself wasn’t for sale, Scott put on her estate hat and looked for land in the area. They found an area for sale just outside Toomsboro, Wilkinson County, with no legal personality.
“It was just a beautiful piece of land. It was affordable and it just made sense that we could create something that would be amazing for our families,” said Scott.
History of the black cooperatives
The combination of resources to create a collective or cooperative economy is not new – especially among blacks in the US.
“We have a very long history of collaborative economics, economic cooperation, and creating our own community cities,” said Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Action and Professor of Community Justice with John Jay University. “More recently, we’ve set up a Community Land Trust that actually gives the community official land ownership.”
One of the earliest all-black communities was Mound Bayou in the Mississippi Delta. It was founded by former slaves after the civil war.
“Almost every society that was enslaved also had marooned societies,” says Gordon Nembhard. “They start their own communities … and start farming them together, starting a city, running the city, working together as much as possible, and basically having a secluded space that is completely controlled by the community becomes and one can get away from slavery. “
“There are so many former black cities,” said Scott. “We hope we can be one of them too.”
Scott and Walters say they got questions about why they wanted to create an all-black city. Your answer? It’s something that’s been done for generations.
“It’s impossible to have anything black because our families are integrated,” says Scott. “We’re an integrated, tolerant and diverse community, even as blacks. So we don’t intend her to be exclusively black, but we do intend her to be pro-black in every way.”
“We create a legacy”
Scott and Walters plan to develop the land in phases. The first phase involves clearing the land, farming and creating an artificial lake for sustainable fishing.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony, Scott said that although they did not know the exact history of their property, the symbolism of the reconquest of this land gave them the opportunity to write their own story.
They hope to grow within a few years. By the end of their development plan, they are hoping for a fully functional, self-sufficient city that puts Freedom, Georgia on the map.
“To be able to pass this land on to my children and to the children represented by each of our 19 families. As a piece of legacy. We hope to create legacy.”