Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick PhillipsSummary: The story of how Forsyth County, GA expelled all African Americans in 1912 and continued to not have any African American residents until the late 1980s.

I stumbled on Blood at the Root at my local library and is the type of local history that I probably need to read more often. Forsyth County, Georgia is not far from where I live now. I attend church that opened a multi-site location in Cumming, the county seat of Forsyth County. Cumming was a small rural town in 1912, but it part of the suburbs of Atlanta now and I know several people that live there.

In 1912, there were two allegations of rape against Black men in close succession. Allegations of rape of white women by black men was a common part of lynching. It is not that no allegation of rape by Black men was true. But that given the Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of African American in the era of lynching, it is unlikely that many of the allegations of rape were true.

The two rape allegations (one allegation of a rape attempt and a second where the woman was found seriously injured and she died two weeks later). There were several mob actions by Whites against Black residents that required state troops, a lynching, and a show trial that resulted in death sentences for two men (one 16 year old is the youngest to ever be executed in Georgia).

Over the next several months, Night Riders, harassed the African American population of Forsyth County (approximately 10% of the population) and eventually all Black residents of the county left, many abandoning property or selling it at significant loss of value.

Over the next several decades there were incidents that kept African Americans out of the county, including attacks on people simply driving through the county and attacks on chauffeurs or other servants of White residents or visitors.

In 1980, a Black Atlanta resident attending a work party at Lake Lanier was shot as he was leaving the gathering. The conviction over his shooting was the only incidence of racial violence that had been prosecuted up until that point.

In 1987 there was a series of three civil rights marches. The final of the marches had about 20,000 protestors and about 5,000 counter protestors with about 2000 police and national guard providing protection making it one of the largest marches in the post Civil Rights era up until that time.

The author, Patrick Phillips, moved to Forsyth County as a child in 1977. His family marched in the marches in the 1980s. This is written as not only a well documented local history, but with himself as a character. That is even more true with the audiobook which he narrates.

The end of the book is about how the community still has not acknowledged the real cause and harm of the history. Ironically, Forsyth County talked about its lack of problems during the Civil Rights era and with relatively few lynchings without really dealing with the history of why there were no real conflict in the 1950s and 60s (because there were no African Americans allowed to live in the community.)

Two committees wrote competing reports in 1987 as a results of the marches (one committee was entirely local and white and another committee was biracial and included members outside the community because there were no African Americans that lived in the community). One of the recommendations of the biracial committee to the Governor was to create a permanent review board to investigate racial violence and intimidation (as occurred with the Freedman’s Bureau in the late 1860s). Governor Harris did not act on the recommendation.

Today Forsyth County is one of the most wealthy and one of the fastest growing communities in the country. Many of the demands of the marches in the 1980s have been met. In 1990, there were 14 African Americans out of a total population of over 44,000. There does not appear to have been any violence as a result, although most of these residents were at the very southern border in the towns of Alpharetta or Milton. By 1997 there was 39 residents with a total population of over 75,000 residents. But that still made Forsyth County the Whitest of the 600 most populous counties in the Country according to the Census Bureau. Today only 3% of the population is African American, compared 30% overall in the state of Georgia.

This is a very local history, but a good example of the types of stories that many Whites do not know about and deny have ever happened. Today most Forsyth residents are new and do not have a history in the community (over 220,000 people now live Forsyth).

The community where I live is not far from Forsyth County and was mentioned several times. The former mayor of Marietta was the main prosecutor during the show trial. Various governors played a role in maintaining the segregation. The well known Leo Frank lynching occurred a few miles from my house in 1915 and Georgia is second only to Mississippi in the total number of lynchings. Georgia averaged one lynching a month between 1890 and 1900.

I think this book is important, not because of Forsyth County in particular but because this is a history that is more common than we think. This book was written in 2016. And as of the writing there is no monument or official recognition of the events of 1912. One of the reasons I think the Equal Justice Initiative’s Lynching Museum that opens in April is important, and why I want to go visit it sometime this year. Coming to terms with our racist history is a small first step toward acknowledging the racial problems today. Big histories are important. But so are the little and local ones.

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

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