Camp Oak Hill: Margaret's Legacy
My Aunt Margaret lived the longest of my dad's siblings. She lived to be 102 and left a remarkable legacy that would become a part of black history. Co-founder of Camp Oak Hill in Nottingham, Pa. My Aunt Margaret was a registered nurse and educator.
In 1948, She and Irene Walker secured 69 acres of farmland and made history. They founded Camp Oak Hill, a summer camp for black girls. It was Irene Walker’s dream to build a camp where girls from ages 5-17 could spend their summer vacations. The camp was accredited in 1948 by the American Camping Association and National Rifle Association.
What was really amazing was to find out a fellow musician, Leon Abner and I were connected as he was a descendant of Irene Walker. Irene Walker was the granddaughter of Richard Allen who established the first national black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and became its first bishop.
For more on Richard Allen:
My sisters spent many summers at Camp Oak Hill where they would stay for 2 to ten weeks each summer.
Text from their 1952 brochure read: ‘Girls of today are women of tomorrow. The experience of a summer camp away from the routine and environment our girls are accustomed to gives them an opportunity to develop physically and to bring our the finest qualities in themselves…’
When Irene Walker died unexpectedly several years later, Aunt Margaret became the sole owner. Aunt Margaret added a boys cabin due to demand in later years. Their programs included riflery, dance,
archery, boating, horsemanship, tennis, swimming instruction, vespers, nature study, arts and crafts, volleyball, softball and roller skating.
In 1972 when a parent wrote that she was ‘distressed to see non-blacks in leadership roles in swimming and horseback riding.’ She continued, ’One would expect at a predominately black camp, the leader models to be Blacks. We were disappointed that at Camp Oak Hill this was not the case.’
Aunt Margaret responded:
‘In 1948 we opened Camp Oak Hill as an integrated camp. Discrimination on the basis of Race, Color or National Origin is prohibited at Oak Hill.
I employ counselors who are qualified and not on color. The non-blacks that I have employed this year are dependable, responsible and qualified and they are doing an excellent job plus taking care of your children. They were not employed because they were non blacks. Non-Blacks must be qualified as well as Blacks. I would prefer to employ Blacks, but if I cannot find quality, I am forced to seek non-blacks…
Would you rather have your children supervised by qualified non-blacks or unqualified Blacks? If I am to remain an accredited Camp and a Member of the American Camping Association, I must comply to the standards by employing qualified counselors in certain areas, especially swimming and riding.
We at Camp Oak Hill LIVE ,WORK and PLAY together as PEOPLE and not concerned whether you are Black or Non-Black. The children who come to Oak Hill are the future citizens of America, which is a Multi-Racial Country. In what better place could children and counselors learn to LIVE and WORK with PEOPLE of many different backgrounds?"
Aunt Margaret remained the sole owner of the camp until her late sixties. Today, Camp Oak Hill still exists and the new owners faithfully commit themselves to the preservation of the pioneering leadership of Aunt Margaret and Irene Walker’s work.