Rebuilding a community that nearly had 160 years wiped out in seconds
Just north of Montgomery, a small community was born before the Civil War through federal land grants and was parceled out after the war to former slaves. The Union Benevolent Cemetery became the resting place for the first of many generations starting in 1863. For more than 150 years, the families of Flatwood have lived on that same land.
Over the years, mobile homes filled in the open spaces between old family homes. A community center was built, where residents gathered daily just to spend time with each other. The one thing that hadn’t changed much was the prosperity of the community. It had largely remained a tight-knit group of families that struggled to live on subsistence wages and fixed incomes.
A week after Thanksgiving, in 2022, a tornado ripped through the community, leveling the community center, destroying multiple homes, and killing a 39-year-old mother and her son. Of the 48 homes in the neighborhood, 19 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, the majority of which were uninsured. Unfortunately, the magnitude of the disaster did not qualify for federal or state assistance.
Fourteen residents had no place to go. One was an 85-year old woman who had grown up in the same house that was destroyed. With nowhere to turn for help, the River Region United Way stepped in to be the conduit for support. Jannah Bailey, President and CEO of the organization, said, “Now is the time for action. Let’s LIVE UNITED and rebuild Flatwood.”
This call to action resonated with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The Tribe understands what it means to be a struggling, tight-knit community. Before the Tribe was Federally recognized in 1984, they struggled with poverty and many of the same challenges that come with an isolated, rural lifestyle.
Within months of the tragedy, the United Way had a check in hand from the Tribe for $140,000 to start rebuilding. Others in the community stepped up in-kind. Rodgers Land Clearing cleared the land and paved the way for new mobile homes to be brought in. Clayton Mobile Homes stretched those funds to get three new mobile homes on site for half of the displaced families. Others were provided temporary housing while the rebuild continued.
A year later, it still continues. The County has allocated funds to rebuild the community center in the same spot where it was wiped off its foundation. Volunteers have spent days clearing and repairing the cemetery. Still more than a half-million dollars will be needed to completely rebuild and provide sustainable housing for all those displaced.
With the first Thanksgiving since the tragedy upon them, the residents of Flatwood are surely faced with grim reminders of a storm that nearly destroyed them. But they also have gratitude for the generous donations that have given them hope to rebuild. As Bailey puts it, “This community is strong, the residents were born and raised here and want to continue. It is more than just repairing homes it is rebuilding a community.” The United Way plans to rekindle awareness of the effort to rebuild as the anniversary of the storm approaches.
Brothers Jeffery and Clement Jordan, whose home was destroyed and will celebrate Thanksgiving in a new mobile home, sum it up pretty simply, “We’re just glad to be back at home.”