Tag Archives: Gary McKnight


Freemantown Cleanup

From left, Gary McKnight (61C), Dr. Jennifer Dickey (77A, 80C) and Dr. Susan Bandy (70C) assist with the Freemantown Cemetery cleanup during Alumni Work Week.

As a teacher at Berry Academy, Gary McKnight (61C, FFS) spent 20 summers roaming the slopes of Lavender Mountain with his bird-dog searching for the historic Freemantown Cemetery. This spring, he helped to clean up and restore the site as a participant in Alumni Work Week.

“I thought it was local lore,” said McKnight, one of approximately 150 alumni and friends who returned to Berry in late May for the annual celebration of Berry’s work heritage. Project sites ranged from the House o’ Dreams high atop Lavender Mountain to the Gunby Equine Center to the grounds of Martha Berry’s famed Oak Hill estate.

At the Freemantown site, McKnight worked alongside project lead Joe Ragsdale (65C), campus preservationist Dr. Jennifer Dickey (77A, 80C) and other alumni to clear briars and debris obscuring the cemetery from view. Freeman family descendants also were on hand to assist with the effort.

The cemetery, which few people are aware exists, marks the site of a once-thriving African-American community established by Thomas Freeman in 1871. Freeman, a blacksmith and Union Civil War veteran, acquired 300 acres of what is now Berry’s mountain campus after his emancipation. He died in 1893, and his wife, Henrietta, and 12 children eventually sold the land to Martha Berry in the years between 1916 and 1926. While the buildings and church have been lost to time, the cemetery remains.

“I never thought it would be up in these trees,” McKnight said, “They’ve grown up in the last 50 years and covered everything.”

Ironically, the trees growing between the graves prevented erosion and helped preserve the cemetery.

Archeologists from the Georgia Historic Preservation Division surveyed the cemetery earlier in the year using ground-penetrating radar. Analysis of that data will help to reveal unmarked graves and determine boundaries for the site. Read more about the survey.

Already, the perimeter fence has been adjusted to incorporate a recently discovered headstone outside the original boundary. A new entrance will be constructed later this summer. Freeman descendants will hold a reunion at the site in August.

Related News: Berry Alumni Work Week reunites roomies; Around Berry photo gallery

By student writer Lauren Higdon

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