By Ed Brock
When Anderson "Pap" Freeman, Sr. became a free man in the late 1800s, he lived in Spalding and Henry counties and started a family.
He was married twice and had 13 children. They were Clara, Lucille (Love), Epscy (Sis), Emma (Daught), Blanche, William (Luke), Lindsey (Buddy), Marlie (Smiles), Eddie (Doc), Jeff (Rigs), Wesley (West), Anderson (Babe) and Jerimiah (Sip) Freeman.
"From the 13 children, that's where it all started," said 54-year-old Virginia Freeman, one of the family's historians and granddaughter of "Sip" Freeman.
By 1906, when "Pap" Freeman decided to organize a family reunion some of them had married, taking on names like Thrasher, Starr, Smith, Boyd and Blessed. They came together for that first reunion in wagons or on horseback or by train, and, as it says in a reunion program, "they rejoiced and praised the Lord."
Nearly a century later, they're still at it. Last Saturday, as they've done every second Saturday in August for 98 years, the Freeman family came together again.
"It was wonderful," Virginia Freeman said.
The Freeman family is entwined in the history of Henry and Clayton counties. Freeman Road just south of Jonesboro is named for the family.
In the early 1900s Luke Freeman, one of the wealthiest of the Freeman family, and other neighbors on Freeman Road started a small school there in what was also a chapel. It was a cozy place of learning for about 20 students and had a pot-bellied stove surrounded by a sandbox to catch stray embers.
"I went to that school ?til I couldn't go to school," said 86-year-old Lonnie "Buster" Freeman, son of Jeremiah Freeman. "We studied how to read and write, all that stuff, they taught all that."
Today the school is gone, but Lonnie Freeman said that the ruins of Luke Freeman's old well remain on the property still owned by the family.
"We're supposed to put a family reunion building on that (family property on Freeman Road,)" Virginia Freeman said.
This year's reunion was held at the Brady Recreational Center in College Park. As the family has grown the reunion has been held a various places in the area, often in the homes of the original 13 children in Hampton, Jonesboro, Windy Hill and Atlanta. Family members in other states have held "sub-family reunions" in Toledo, Ohio and Birmingham, Ala.
They only missed one year for holding the reunion, during the lean times of World War II.
"We had no sugar," Lonnie Freeman said.
Virginia Freeman started going to the reunions as a young girl in the 1950s. At that time they were still being held at the old Jeremiah Freeman house on Freeman Road as well as other family houses there. Picnic tables were set up in the yard and the family members had to build them with wooden construction "horses" and planks.
"We had to go over there and sweep that ground with hand-made brooms from the woods," Virginia Freeman said.
The family would come in and circle the tables singing the hymn "Beautiful Crown."
"Wherever you stopped in the march, that's where you ate," Virginia Freeman said.
Betty A. Brooks Thrasher, of Hampton is 52 and barely remembers her grandmother Emma "Daught" Thrasher. She was still very young when Emma Thrasher died.
"What I do remember, I remember her funeral," Brooks said.
In keeping with an old tradition that has now all but faded, the family brought the body home for a day or two before the funeral.
"They had to lift us up to see the body in the casket," Brooks said.
As she always does, Brooks enjoyed this past reunion.
"We usually meet when somebody's passed on, but it's good to meet when there's nothing like that going on," Brooks said. "That was the first time I've ever been that I got a chance to be on the program."
However, she noticed that there were fewer people there than in previous reunions. She attributed the lower numbers to the fact that many older members of the family aren't able to travel.
The oldest surviving grandchild of Anderson Freeman Sr. is 103-year-old Luther Starr who now lives in Tennessee. The oldest granddaughter is Louis Freeman Souder, 92, who lives with her daughter in Atlanta.
"The younger ones are just trying to keep it going," Brooks said.
Virginia Freeman said some of the relatives from out of state didn't make it in for this reunion, but around 300 family members did attend.
Keeping the reunion alive for another century is a matter of educating the children and young people in the family about the importance of their blood ties, Virginia Freeman said.
"I think with the number of people we have still attending the future will be full of reunions for years to come," Freeman said. "That's what I'm doing now is making sure it doesn't get lost."