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19 Black families bought 97 acres of land, and they want to turn it into a city called Freedom

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/6/2020 N'dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY
a dirt road: 19 Black families came together to purchase nearly 100 acres of land in Wilkinson County, Georgia © Kenya Sheats, Freedom Georgia Initiative 19 Black families came together to purchase nearly 100 acres of land in Wilkinson County, Georgia

Real estate agent Ashley Scott was looking for some way to participate in the nationwide movement against police brutality and systemic racism without joining protests in the streets. She didn't want to expose herself or her family to COVID-19, but she wanted to make an impact.

That's when her friend and fellow entrepreneur Renee Walters told her about a town for sale.

"The foundation of our structure is where the problem is," Scott said. "Finding a town, it felt like OK this is how you change the foundation of the structure."

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In June, the pair went to visit the tiny town of Toomsboro, Georgia – which it turned out was not actually for sale – where they met dozens of other Black investors and scoped out nearby pieces of property. When they came upon a plot of nearly 97 acres of land in rural Wilkinson County, Georgia, Scott said "it spoke to my spirit."

"It was like the ancestors were like 'this is it,'" she said. 

a person standing on top of a dirt field: Ashley Scott and Renee Walters embrace on the land they helped purchase in Georgia. © Kenya Sheats, Freedom Georgia Initiative Ashley Scott and Renee Walters embrace on the land they helped purchase in Georgia.

Over the next 45 days, Scott said she and Walters created the Freedom Georgia Initiative and recruited 17 other Black families to purchase the land with hopes of developing it into an "authentic Black community and culture that feels safe, feels prosperous." 

Walters, the president of Freedom Georgia Initiative, said the neighboring communities have been welcoming and the only negative reactions the group has seen have been from "internet trolls." She was quick to dispel the misconception that the land is exclusively for Black families.

"Pro-Black does not mean anti-white," she said. "We don’t want people to think that this is segregation ... we just want to build a haven where we feel safe."

They are planning to finish construction on the homes as well as a farm, horse stables, lake, and tiny house cabin by next spring. Eventually, Scott said they want the land to become a hub for tourism with a farm-to-table restaurant, an Airbnb experience, an amphitheater and a conference center. 

Scott and Walters hope to buy more land and expand into a city that's able to provide municipal services including law enforcement, a fire department, parks and recreation, libraries, a hospital and a school.

Scott said it may take between three and five years to write a charter and petition to get the city recognized as an official municipality. They plan to call it Freedom, Georgia.

"That's going to be a long battle," she said. "I’m hoping that it won't be a difficult battle getting the state of Georgia to recognize us because we are attracting so many resources and attracting so many families."

Each state has its own requirements for municipal incorporation and Scott must meet a number of population, development and political requirements before the city can become incorporated.

Scott said she hopes to inspire other Black families to build collectives and purchase land in mass, particularly in the local area. She advised others who hope to pursue similar projects to work with experts like a real estate agent, lawyer, or seasoned business consultant to protect themselves and their assets.

"Getting as much information and education as you possibly can is the first step," she said.

The ultimate goal is not just to have a place to live, but to create jobs and build generational wealth. When the project is finally completed, Scott said she expects to feel "uncontainable joy, pride and legacy."

"No way you can walk out into the completed place and not have an overwhelming sense that we’ve created legacy."

Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 19 Black families bought 97 acres of land, and they want to turn it into a city called Freedom

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