Forsyth County, Georgia, at the turn of the twentieth century was home to a large African American community that included ministers and teachers, farmers and field hands, tradesmen, servants, and children. Many black residents were poor sharecroppers, but others owned their own farms and the land on which they'd founded the county's thriving black churches.Read more...
Forsyth County, Georgia, at the turn of the twentieth century was home to a large African American community that included ministers and teachers, farmers and field hands, tradesmen, servants, and children. Many black residents were poor sharecroppers, but others owned their own farms and the land on which they'd founded the county's thriving black churches.
But then in September of 1912, three young black laborers were accused of raping and murdering a white girl. One man was dragged from a jail cell and lynched on the town square, two teenagers were hung after a one-day trial, and soon bands of white -night riders- launched a coordinated campaign of arson and terror, driving all 1,098 black citizens out of the county. In the wake of the expulsions, whites harvested the crops and took over the livestock of their former neighbors, and quietly laid claim to -abandoned- land. The charred ruins of homes and churches disappeared into the weeds, until the people and places of black Forsyth were forgotten.
National Book Award finalist Patrick Phillips tells Forsyth's tragic story in vivid detail and traces its long history of racial violence all the way back to antebellum Georgia. Recalling his own childhood in the 1970s and '80s, Phillips sheds light on the communal crimes of his hometown and the violent means by which locals kept Forsyth -all white- well into the 1990s.
Blood at the Root is a sweeping American tale that spans the Cherokee removals of the 1830s, the hope and promise of Reconstruction, and the crushing injustice of Forsyth's racial cleansing. With bold storytelling and lyrical prose, Phillips breaks a century-long silence and uncovers a history of racial terrorism that continues to shape America in the twenty-first century.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Poet and translator Phillips (Elegy for a Broken Machine) employs his considerable writing skills to chronicle the racism that held Forsyth County, Ga., in its grip for three quarters of the 20th century. In 1912, an unknown person or persons raped two white women in Forsyth County, one of whom died of her injuries. As a result, a black man was beaten to death by a white mob, and two other black men, their guilt unclear, were convicted of the crime and hanged in a public execution. Forsyth’s white residents decided the executions were not sufficient retribution, and they subjected the county’s 1,100 African-American residents to a reign of terror that forced all of them to abandon their homes. The deeply embedded racism of a county functionally immune from law was sufficiently powerful to keep Forsyth County completely white for 75 years. On Jan. 17, 1987, a civil rights march 20,000 strong in the county seat, Cumming, brought the scourge of unmitigated white power to national attention, forcing the beginnings of integration. Phillips enhances his exposé of this violent and shameful history through interviews with descendants of the white families who brazenly exiled the county’s black community as well as the descendants of those forced to leave. This is a gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism, and Phillips tells it with rare clarity and power. Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media. (Sept.)
Forsyth County reckons with its ugly history
Even given the many racially tainted chapters in U.S. history, the story of Georgia’s Forsyth County still shocks. Patrick Phillips grew up “living inside the bubble of Georgia’s notorious ‘white county’ ” where there were few blacks—and, once, there had been none. Something happened in 1912, and after that, Forsyth County was all-white and proud of it. Its citizens would go to horrific lengths for another 75 years to keep it that way. Phillips, grown and living far away, found himself “ashamed to recall how I defended my silence.” Blood at the Root is the result, an account as riveting in its historical detail as it is troubling in its foreshadowing of racial tensions today.
In 1912, after the rape and murder of young, white Mae Crow and the so-called confession by black teenager Ernest Knox, white “night riders” took matters into their own hands. After one of the three suspects was beaten, lynched and shot by a vengeful mob, blacks fled as their homes and families became targets for shooters and arsonists. Their property, crops and livestock soon fell into eager white hands. In the days and years that followed, long after the teenagers had been convicted and hanged, any black person entering the county was promptly terrorized into leaving.
Attempts at racial cleansing began long before the Jim Crow era, from the federal Indian Removal Act of 1830 through the systemic failures of Reconstruction. In Forsyth County, barring blacks altogether was the answer to any “race troubles.” This injustice would persist well beyond the reach of civil rights for decades, an ugly history kept silent—until now.