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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Charlotte Farm Celebrates African-American Heritage And Culture

Melody Bodette
Lydia Clemmons purchased a farm in Charlotte in the 1960s and ran an African art import business for decades. Now her family plans to transition the farm into a non-profit celebrating African-American heritage and culture.

A Charlotte family is working to turn their family farm into a non-profit to celebrate African-American heritage and culture. The Clemmons family has a long history of bringing communities together and celebrating African art and culture, and now they are finalists for a grant to expand their vision.

Dr. Jack Clemmons and his wife, Lydia, a nurse anesthetist, moved to Vermont in the 1960s to work for the University of Vermont. But instead of settling in Burlington, they defied the social expectations of their families and bought a 150-acre farm in Charlotte.

Lydia Clemmons says they were the only African-American family in town. “We were 100 percent welcomed every place we went,” she said.

Even though they were medical professionals, they wanted their five children to know the value of hard work. So in addition to their medical and teaching jobs, they hayed the fields and grew vegetables.  But along the way, they always made time for music and art, and Clemmons says they always welcomed visitors to their big white farmhouse with its historic red barn.

“We would have various students out to the farm, all colors, white, black, Indian or whatever. We always had an open door,” she said.

Over the years the family hosted many events for friends with visiting artists and musicians. The Clemmons made many trips to Africa, and Lydia began an African art import business, which she ran at the farm for over 20 years.

The couple is now in their 90s. The next generation has taken over the farm. Their daughter, also named Lydia, returned from a 35-year career in international health and development in Africa. She is working to turn the farm into a non-profit that celebrates African-American history and multiculturalism.

“I’ve come back to a Vermont that’s very different than when we were kids in the 1960s. So many new opportunities, so many new kinds of people who have moved in bringing with them such a wealth of culture and history and heritage and art with them, and seeing that there’s such an opportunity to create a place where all of that wonderful multiculturalism can thrive,” said the younger Lydia Clemmons.

They are again opening the farm to visitors with events like coffee ceremonies, picnics, live music and hosting art exhibits in the renovated barn. One current exhibit features the photography and writing of multicultural teens from Hardwick. Clemmons says she hopes to give Vermonters, especially children, a positive place to explore.

"For many people of color, we've lost part of our history. What's so valuable here is this farm holds a lot of history for future generations." - Mary Brown Guillory, Champlain Area NAACP

“Most of the communities of color are in Chittenden County, but nothing replaces coming to a farm and being able to run around when you’re a young person. There's also something about as a young person, you’re running around on black-owned property. It means something when you’re a child of color,” she said.

Mary Brown-Guillory of the Champlain Area NAACP says it's important that Clemmons Family is willing to share their rich family history with everyone.

“For many people of color, we’ve lost part of our history. What’s so valuable here is this farm holds a lot of history for future generations and we still yet have the Clemmons to walk us through what they’ve been through. It’s a legacy that’s not just for the Clemmons Family, but for any Vermont family,” she said.

The Clemmons Family Farmis a stop on Vermont’s African-American Heritage Trail. It's open on weekends and by appointment through the summer. The farm is a finalist for an Artplace Americagrant that could further that vision of a place for people of all colors to come together. 

Credit Melody Bodette / VPR
The Clemmons family plans to host music, art, and other events at the farm.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
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