Atwater, Fishwater, Mary Dishwater, summer camp, oldest, black owned, reopen

The Country’s Oldest Black-Owned Camp Makes Long-Awaited Return After 3 Years

Camp Atwater, the country’s oldest Black-run summer camp, has re-opened following a three-year halt.

Stretching across 75 acres and neighboring Lake Lashaway, the North Brookfield, MA, camp has impacted the lives of over 60,000 Black children, bringing them cultural and academic experiences like no other.

Camp Atwater, an overnight camp, was founded in 1921 by pastor and social worker Dr. William N. DeBerry. The camp serves children ages 8 to 15 and is registered as a National Historic Site. It’s named after Dr. David Fisher Atwater whose daughter, Mary Atwater, donated $25,000 in honor of her father.

The camp has an impressive network of alumni, including two-time Oscar-winning fashion designer, Ruth Carter; Detroit’s first Black mayor, Coleman A. Young; and Donald Faison, the award-winning actor from the hit TV series, Scrubs


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Camp Atwater (@campatwater1921)

The camp ceased operations in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic but has now returned with government financial assistance. U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, (D-MA) provided nearly half a million dollars to help Camp Atwater continue running in 2023, according to Massachussetts Live.

During the years it was inactive, it was revamped by Henry Thomas III, the CEO and president of the Urban League, which runs the camp. .

“We just felt our campers really needed this,” Shadae Harris-Thomas, Thomas’ daughter and the camp’s new executive director, told Massachusetts Live. “Our young people need a place where they see themselves in the majority and can experience peace, put the electronics down and discover their natural environment

“We have about 50 campers there this summer, but we intentionally kept it at 50 since it’s the first year the camp is up and running, so we can continue to focus on programs,” she said.

RELATED CONTENT: Public Welfare Foundation Launches Summer Public Service Announcement Campaign “See You, See Youth”