This Small Town in Georgia Welcomes Refugees With Open Arms

Clarkston, Georgia has been dubbed the "Ellis Island of the South" for its welcoming approach to refugees.

Sep 15, 2018

Clarkston has been dubbed the "Ellis Island of the South" for its welcoming approach to refugees. (Michal Knitl /

In a small town in Georgia in the US, residents planned a 4th of July party, and although the usual festivities of sparklers, barbecues, and pool parties weren’t especially unique, there was one aspect about the holiday that held a very special meaning for its 13,000 residents, 31.8 percent of whom are immigrants.

Unexpectedly, this small southern town has become a haven for refugees seeking a better life. Maryam Ahmad Jan, a single mother is one of those people. Jan and her two children escaped a dangerous Afghanistan in the hopes of a safer and happier life. And her story is one of many. The town’s mayor, Ted Terry, says Clarkson is the "Ellis Island of the South," home to 40 nationalities and over 60 spoken languages that cover 3.63 square kilometers.

Terry is proud that Clarkson gives many people a fresh start and allows many different types of residents to live peacefully alongside one another. “It really gives me a lot of hope in a future world because if … we can find this pathway to show that you can have a peaceful, more prosperous world, then I think that we could really see that take hold in a lot of other parts of America and it will be something that we are proud that we were part of," he told TODAY.

Clarkson resident Mary Martha Myette (who is co-sponsoring Jan through nonprofit resettlement organization, New American Pathways), said “Maryam has been an inspiration to me. She is a woman who has quiet grace. She is very strong, she’s hardworking, she’s an amazing person. We consider each other as family.”

The town’s accepting population aren’t the only reason transitioning to a life in America is smoother down in Georgia. Because of Clarkson’s small size, town amenities and restaurants are all accessible on foot or through public transformation. Housing is affordable, local businesses are well versed in providing assistance and services for refugees, and there are English classes for those ready to acclimate.

Celebrating our country is a cherished tradition for many Americans. For these refugees, welcomed into this Georgian town with open arms, it’s also an opportunity to gather with fellow townspeople and celebrate a country that makes living your dreams a true possibility.

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Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.