Last summer I heard about Camp Atwater-a historic piece of Black and American history. I was driving through LA listening to Code Switch. Episode "Summer Vacation" spoke about people of color in the outdoors, the damage the sun can do, and this camp.
Camp Atwater was founded in 1921 by Dr. William DeBerry. He purchased some 54 acres of land in North Brookfield Massachusetts. That's roughly the size of two baseball stadiums! Dr. DeBerry was was part of the Urban League in Springfield (MA). The Urban League is an organization founded in 1910 in NYC to fight for the rights of Black folks in the US. DeBerry, who was also a pastor helped get a chapter going in Springfield where a sizable population of Black folks had grown. As part of the great migration of Blacks from the South to northern cities. Anyway, Black folks could not send their children to camps owned by Whites. So DeBerry founded Camp Atwater, previously called "St. John's Camp" after the local church.
Atwater is the oldest Black owned camp for Black children in the US. They have a time slot during the summer for boys, and one for girls. Kids come, and stay in cabins. They get three meals a day, and the hang out, do activities, have fun. Atwater has offered archery, baseball, basketball, Black history, chess, creative writing, drama, fencing, fishing, football, hiking, lacrosse, martial arts, soccer, and more. Swimming stuck out to me because like the camp's Black folks often didn't have access to pools back then. Camp Atwater was set on the shore of a lake and they made sure youth knew how to swim!
Being in existence this long makes me wonder what kind of organization, project management, bookkeeping, conflict resolution, and grit it has taken to keep it open for nearly a century! On their site you can read more about them and I highly recommend listening to the CodeSwitch episode which interviews former attendees and talks about the economic mix of kids. I would love to hear how they are welcoming or being open to transgender Black kids who don't identify as Boy or Girl. . But, BIG shout out to Camp Atwater for making building a sanctuary. And big shout out to Outdoor Afro who has reignited a long tradition of Black folks getting outdoorsy and new to the outdoors Black folks together.
If you are new to my blog, my name is Robert Liu-Trujillo. I'm a father, husband, and an illustrator from the Bay Area. I love hiking, camping, backpacking, and I even did some fishing with my grandparents as a kid. For this image I wanted to focus on some of the activities the camp has offered while also giving a feeling of being outdoors. I also have been painting and drawing images for Black history month for the last three years. To see more of them CLICK HERE.
Sources: Codeswitch NPR Podcast, Camp Atwater, Urban League of Springfield, Black Past
Word to Inkwell, someone needs to make a movie based on this camp! A documentary or narrative!
Some of my favorites from Black History Month over the years:
Shine Louise Houston