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Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

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A gripping tale of racial cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia, and a harrowing testament to the deep roots of racial violence in America.

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.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published September 20, 2016

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About the author

Patrick Phillips

106 books73 followers
Patrick Philips was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a BA from Tufts University, an MFA from the University of Maryland, and a PhD in English Renaissance literature from New York University. He is the author of the poetry collections Chattahoochee (2004), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, Boy (2008), and Elegy for a Broken Machine (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award. Through his poems, Philips frequently tells stories of earlier generations of his white, working-class family’s life in Birmingham, Alabama; in his work, he also grapples with race relations, the complex and violent dynamics of family relationships, and parenthood. In an interview for storySouth, Philips noted that he has found working in traditional poetic forms to be “generative” while acknowledging a poem’s need for both narrative and song.

His honors include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Copenhagen. He won the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s translation prize for his translations of the work of Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 531 reviews
Profile Image for Julie .
4,002 reviews58.9k followers
April 11, 2019
Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips is a 2016 W.W. Norton & Company publication.

This is a shocking historical account of the true events that took place in Cumming, Georgia in Forsyth county beginning in 1912 when three black men were accused of murdering a white woman.

The hysteria that ensued is stunning and I must admit, I had never heard of this case, but do recall vague murmurings about Cumming, Georgia from time to time. I suppose the news stories explains why it is seems oddly familiar to me, but I was completely ignorant of the town’s backstory.

The author of this book lived in Cumming during the seventies when his parents decided to move away from Atlanta in favor of small town life. Phillips, who was always encouraging a colleague to address controversial topics, was told to put his money where his mouth was, and so he rose to the challenge, choosing to uncover the truth about Forsyth county and the forcible removal of all its black residents, and how the community remained all white all the way up until the late nineties.

The result is a very detailed description of the events that stirred the evacuation of all blacks from the county, which also includes some very graphic and disturbing photographs and language. The author followed the trail of several families who were forced out and detailed how their lives were altered and what became of them.

The story winds its way up from the distant past to the present, which highlights the town’s staunch stand and stubborn refusal to allow blacks to live in their community, even drawing the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who bravely traveled to Forsyth during the early days of her talk show.

The author did an amazing job researching this book and sticks to the journalistic facts, which speaks volumes and still has me shaking my head in disbelief.

However, as I absorbed this piece of sad and outrageous history, it strikes me that the struggle appears to be constantly ongoing, and with the recent revelations the 2016 election brought to light, it seems possible we could take some huge steps backward instead of forward, which is not only frustrating, but truly frightening.

Overall, this book is a disturbing look at the past, and although it is not light reading, it is thought provoking and should serve as a reminder to us we should try to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Hopefully, this book will inspire us to work more diligently to protect all civil liberties.

4 stars
Profile Image for Faith.
1,824 reviews500 followers
July 1, 2021
After two incidents in 1912 involving white women and black men, the good citizens of Forsyth County, Georgia took it upon themselves to cleanse their county of all things negro. They killed, threatened and burned out over 1000 blacks living in the county and continued to prevent their return until the 1990s (after some protest marches in 1987). There was no KKK in the state at the time, these were just "normal" citizens, who, with the help of the sheriff (who later joined the Klan), distorted southern justice and a president (Woodrow Wilson) who supported and spread segregation, managed to keep their county all white for decades. I cannot express how disgusted I was by this story.

The book was very thoroughly researched, but on the other hand, the perpetrators had no interest in hiding their actions because they saw nothing wrong with them. To this day, there has been no compensation to the families of the people who were driven out and had their property stolen. In fact there is no acknowledgment of the racial cleansing in the historical society or anywhere else in this appalling county. Considering that the predecessors of these people had previously driven out the Cherokee and stolen their property, I guess the people of Forsyth County had reason to believe that they could get away with anything. Sadly, they were correct.

I received a free copy of the e-book from the publisher, however I wound up borrowing and listening to the audiobook from the library. The audiobook was narrated by the author and he did a pretty good job with the narration.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,699 reviews1,478 followers
June 12, 2017
A clear four star read. Thank you, Guy, for suggesting it to me.

We start on September 5, 1912. A white woman claims she woke up with a black man by her bed! Events unroll; three black teenagers are accused of raping and murdering a white girl. One Black ends up lynched in the town square. Two Blacks are hung after a cursory, one day trial. This is just the beginning. The place is Cumming, Forsyth County, Georgia, USA – today part of the Atlanta metropolitan area. The focus is the racial cleansing that has held sway in this county for decades. We follow what has occurred in the county up to today, both the events as well as the people scarred by these events. I appreciate that we are also told what has happened to individuals after the events that unfold.

In 1977 the author, seven years old, moved there with his parents, staunch civil rights advocates. You know beliefs ARE inherited or somehow absorbed from generation to generation. This is true both of the author and the people living in Forsyth County.

The book is very well researched; nevertheless, it never gets bogged down in details. Historical events are woven into the chronological telling. They add depth and help the reader get a larger perspective on the attitude that hold this place in its grip. I never, not once, felt that too much information was given, as some non-fiction authors are wont to do. Quite a few names are thrown at you at the beginning. When you fear you are going to get lost, facts are neatly summarized and you are right back on track. The summaries occur more than once, and they help you along nicely. This is particularly helpful if you should be listening, as I did, to the audiobook.

The author reads his own audiobook. He does an excellent job. Very few authors can pull this off so well. Both the book and its reading leave me impressed! The author is a poet, professor and translator. He has been a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Copenhagen and now teaches writing and literature at Drew University. That he teaches writing shows.

Non-fiction can be captivating, and what is told here are events we all should know. Forsyth County has been a bubble of racial purity for decades. A bubble that needs to be burst. Some have claimed it to be a close-knit, peaceful community wracked by trouble from outsiders. Read the book; decide for yourself.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,921 reviews721 followers
September 28, 2016
It's a 4.5 for me.

Between September and October of 1912, all but a very few of the 1,098 African-American citizens (according to the 1910 census) living in Forsyth County Georgia had been run out of the county. The idea of "sundown towns," or communities which purposefully excluded African-Americans from living there, is nothing new, but this book reveals that not only were these people driven out of the county, but also that a "deliberate and sustained campaign of terror" on the part of white residents kept African-Americans out until the last few years of the 20th century.

in September, 1912, three young African-Americans were accused of the rape and murder of a white girl. Just about a week or so earlier, the screams of another white woman had aroused people to the fact that she'd woken to find an African-American man in her bedroom. Four young men were arrested, and a black minister horsewhipped for casting aspersions on the woman's character. The second crime, however, unleashed a coordinated campaign to get rid of every black citizen in the county -- involving "night riders," threats, arson, and worse -- any kind of terror imaginable at the time was utilized here to run these people out of the county completely, including threats against the more upper/middle class white residents who had black household help. As time went on, white people just sort of laid claim to land previously owned by the former Forsyth residents so that soon any vestiges of what were African-American homes, farms, churches, etc. soon disappeared, and life went on in a now-all white Forsyth County, basically erasing the fact that black people had even lived there. Things were so white that even the once-in-a-while visit by other African-Americans to the county would result in threats, which often included loaded guns pointed at the faces of black chauffeurs of visitors. Scariest yet -- none of this changed at all until determined marchers in 1987 came to Forsyth county to hold demonstrations; even then law enforcement wasn't enough to control the white anger and hatred, and even afterwards when Forsyth made national news, things were very slow to change.

There's so much going on in this book and obviously I can't possibly say everything I want to say about it here. It's an incredibly difficult book to read and just damn scary because here it is 2016 and we're doing a backslide into this sort of intolerant, ugly and just downright frightening behavior yet again as white supremacy once again raises its head in this country. Just a few nit-picky things: not keen on the connection between the ouster of the Cherokees and the African-Americans -- this part needed a whole lot more, in-depth comparison to make it work for me. Secondly, even though Phillips did a great job in revealing how the president of the United States at the time reneged on campaign promises he used to gain the black vote leaving many African-Americans poor, without hope of jobs and often fired from the positions they held in Washington DC, I wouldn't have exactly labeled that as "racial cleansing" in the same sense he uses it regarding Forsyth County. But once again, the best part of this well-researched book lies in how he traces the sad history of events to give his readers an insight into "the process by which racial injustice is perpetuated" here in the United States.

Personally, I think everyone should read this book.

Profile Image for Leo Walsh.
Author 3 books93 followers
March 6, 2017
How ironic, reviewing a history of white supremacists terrorizing a Georgia town in 1912 on the first full day of Jeff Sessions’ tenure as US Attorney General. Sessions, an elite white man from Alabama, has a long, contentious history with civil and voting rights laws. As a federal judge, he dragged his heels while pursuing hate crime and civil rights cases, and supported voter suppression laws that targeted African American voters. I cannot see into Sessions’ soul. But his actions are EXACTLY what you’d expect a white supremacist to do.

Which begs the question: “What does the ‘rule of law’ look like under a white supremacist regime?”

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips provides a historical example of life under white supremacists. And, if history repeats itself, as the saying goes, I’m not expecting much from Sessions.

A well researched history, Blood at the Root is a captivating read. It traces the inept attempts by white elites in Georgia, tepid on civil rights to check the murderous impulses of whites in the rural county of Forsyth, Georgia. Where a group of white supremacists terrorists, “White Knights,” lead the charge to lynch a potentially innocent black man for the rape and murder of a young white girl.

The police, instead of investigating the murder for alternative suspects, settled on several other young black men, allowing only “evidence” that confirmed their pre-conceived guilty verdict into the court proceedings which saw these men also hanged in a “legal, public” lynching.

Yup. That’s the “rule of law” granted minorities where white supremacists rule.

Phillips gives a gripping account of how the White Knights then began a systematic racial cleansing of the county. Through a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation, they scared every black family out of town. And then the courts allowed these violent terrorists to claim the black owner’s “abandoned” farms as their own. All “legal,” albeit unjust.

Yup. That’s the “rule of law” granted minorities where white supremacists rule.

Four stars. Captivating read. Culled from real sources, and factual as a kick in the rear.

And maybe mandatory reading for an America where, in 2017, the racist behavior of Jeff Session, which disqualified him as a federal judge in 1986, is now deemed acceptable to the GOP Senate. To quote the president, “SAD!!!”

Profile Image for Amanda Mae.
337 reviews20 followers
June 25, 2016
Being from north Georgia, I was anxious to read this book about a county in north Georgia that drove off all the black residents and was "white only" for decades -- until another bout of racial insanity in the late 80s. The author lived with his family in the county during the civil rights march of 1987, and his parents and sister marched in it. This is his attempt at tracing how this area got so heated and bigoted.

When he recounted the history of lynching in this country, and highlighted a few particularly gruesome stories, I had to put the book down for a little bit. It was so horrific to me. You think you've heard how bigoted and torturous people can be to each other, and then you read about a lynching. And since some of this history happened within my lifetime, it's terrifying to think that there are people around me who likely feel the same way some of these white supremacists thought.

Excellent piece of local history, and a book that will give you pause -- especially if you're in the South.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,422 reviews538 followers
April 17, 2022
An excellent and shocking book that traces the history of a county in Georgia which expelled all Blacks in 1912 and through vigilant white supremacy remained all white until the end of the 1980s. The author has a personal connection, as he grew up in the county. He weaves historical documents with interviews of survivors and draws upon the broader history of US racism in the early and later 20th century. A buddy read with my son and a great discussion book.
Profile Image for Jeff Crosby.
98 reviews7 followers
November 16, 2016
A Jewish proverb declares that "in remembrance is the secret of redemption." If that's true, then author Patrick Phillips has offered not only the current and future citizens of Forsyth County, Georgia but indeed contemporary American culture a shot at redemption. His book "Blood at the Root" researches, exposes and remembers a shocking piece of Georgia - but, more accurately, American - history, and helps point a way forward for others to remember - and repair - our own tragic, unredeemed racism.

One of the endorsers of Phillips' book called it both "riveting and painful." It is that, and so much more. Written by a white man who grew up in all-white Forsyth County in the 1980s with parents who participated in the civil rights struggle in their native Alabama and later freedom marches with Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, Joseph Lowery and others (known and unknown) in Forsyth County, it tells the story of the county's racial "cleansing" (a word used in the book's subtitle but one that is too sanitary for what really happened) in 1912 when African Americans were driven to Atlanta and neighboring Hall County. The composition of the County did not change until Atlanta's suburban sprawl brought change at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. The history of 1912 was never recognized by civic leaders of Cumming, the county seat. Children in its award-winning public schools never learned of it there.

As a work of history, the book is exceptional. As a journalistic undertaking, it shows tremendous research and care to tell the story accurately. As a piece of prose, it demonstrates artful use of language. But most of all, it's a book that needs to be read to comprehend our history of racism and how we can live up to the ideals we espouse as a nation.

Riveting reading. Painful reading. Important reading.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
974 reviews357 followers
March 23, 2017
This is a very harrowing story of the county of Forsyth in the state of Georgia (in the U.S.). In 1912 there was a brutal murder of a white woman and three black men were apprehended and accused – and then publicly hanged with hundreds watching. Needless to say the trial was a travesty and the author points out that the lawyers defending the accused were hardly competent – and also any lawyer defending black men of rape or murder would be fearful for their lives if their defendant got off with less than a hanging.

All this gave way to a white racial frenzy in Forsyth – particularly during the time period of the month between the trial and the hanging. Night riders went out and burnt black churches and fired into the homes of black citizens. Most got the message to get out as quickly as possible. Many black citizens fled leaving their homes, their crops, and most of their worldly possessions. Their farms were taken over by their neighboring whites– the “legality” of it made by the “transfer” of title deeds at city hall.

Page 65 (my book)

Faint traces of other black churches are tucked away in hand-written ledgers at the state archives at Morrow; in the collections at the University of Georgia in Athens; even in the basement of the Forsyth courthouse...All that can be said for certain is that again and again in the fall of 1912, white men sloshed gasoline and kerosene onto benches and wooden floors of such rooms, then backed out into the dark, tossing lit matches as they went. All over the county, beneath the ground on which black churches stood, the soil is rich with ashes.

The author reveals all these tragic events. Besides several other aspects, it would appear that two psychological fear factors were at play. One was the sexual – black men and white women. This is indeed ironic because of the constant “power rape” by white men of their black female slaves, housekeepers, and tenants. The other fear was of the unruly black mob in a state of insurrection. This happened in Forsyth when it became known that a group of blacks from the countryside were walking to the town center to question why a black man had been incarcerated; obviously they were fearful that he was to be lynched. On hearing of this rumours quickly spread in the white community – and men, women and children started arming themselves in the town center to prepare to meet this alleged onslaught. This led afterwards to the terrorizing night raids on the entire black community. This fear of the insurrection is ironic as well, because it proves that the white populace knew they were the oppressors – and feared the vengeance of the oppressed.

So for many decades Forsyth county remained a “whites only area” and the word spread through-out the black Georgia community not to go near there. This history is eloquently documented in this book.

Interestingly the expansion of Atlanta, Georgia has now reached Forsyth, so the past has become even more erased. But the author has given us the historical truth of black migrants who fled in fear to settle in other parts of the U.S. – refugees who left their hearth and home in an attempt to find safety.
Profile Image for Ed.
Author 39 books2,691 followers
June 29, 2020
This stark, sobering, and sometimes gruesome account describes what happened in a "whites-only" county north of Atlanta. The protest marches there took place in the 1980s, but I don't remember them. I do know they don't teach you this part of history at school or college.
Profile Image for Megan.
201 reviews10 followers
February 4, 2017
This was such a hard book to read. It is probably the most disturbing book I've ever read because it is true and these things actually happened. Non-fiction about Forsyth County, GA, where in 1912 the white residents decided that after two back-to-back crimes perceived to have been committed by black men, that they would force every black family out of the county - and they were successful at keeping their county "white-only" until the late '80s. I truly didn't know that there were places in America that were like that so late into 20th Century. There were a few moments where I had to close the book for a few minutes before going back to it. The first few chapters are particularly graphic and include several pictures of people who were lynched. While this was difficult to read, I do believe it is an important book to read considering what our nation is currently going through. A quote from this book from a white factory worker in Detroit who was on strike in '43 due to the influx of black and immigrant workers into their city, "I'd rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work beside a n*****." I feel like that sentiment rings true with too many people in our country and it is very sad to see history repeating itself. And so while it is hard and unpleasant to read, and I don't like that these images of atrocities will never leave my mind, it is important to be aware and to acknowledge that these things happened and that we strive to work against them happening again.
Profile Image for Sue.
478 reviews17 followers
February 5, 2017
This is a powerful book. The author reveals horrible truths about the racial cleansing in Forsyth. I feel not enough people know about this and should. It was so difficult to read even though the book wasn't very long. There were times I had to put the book down because the events that happened were pretty terrible and it was made more upsetting because this actually happened. However, the author has written it so well with matter-of-factness, truth and tact. I wish higher powers would read this book to make sure history does not repeat itself. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Jeannette.
972 reviews48 followers
February 6, 2017
This is a book I expect to remember. Some of it was hard to read, but not unexpected: it is not a secret that racists did terrible things to African Americans in the past. Lynchings and other such acts are a sorry and disgusting part of American history, whether we choose to admit it or not. That doesn't make it easy to read at all, of course. It's still a hard path to trod, especially when Phillips punctuates his stories with photographs of lynchings and crowds of angry racists. It gets harder still when you realize that some of the "history" described in this book happened even more recently than you would have guessed; the Brotherhood Marches took place when I was two years old. We clearly still have so far to go.

It's sad and frightening and a little stomach-turning at times (I don't recommend reading the chapter "The Scaffold" on a stomach flu), but more than that, it's actually a really interesting and important read. It shows how people can trick themselves into blinding themselves to the truth. It shows how easy it is to simply pass on the blame. It shows how easily fear can win. And it's important that we know these things and remember them.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jamise.
Author 2 books152 followers
February 10, 2017
4.5 stars | What a heavy read!! The 'Racial Cleansing' that drove 1,100 black residents out of Forsyth County, GA. I don't know why I continued to be shocked at the pure EVIL that resides in humans. Although the year was 1912, the underlying foundation of this story is rearing its ugly head again. Not that this hatred ever went away but now there's a platform to not have any decency or empathy for your fellow man.

An open letter to President Woodrow Wilson from W.E.B. DuBois -- "...we want to be treated as men, we want to vote, we want our children educated, we want lynching stopped, we want no longer to be herded as cattle on street cars and railroads, we want the right to earn a living, to own our own property and to spend our income unhindered and uncursed, in the name then of that common country for which your fathers and ours have bled and toiled be not untrue President Wilson to the highest ideals of American Democracy." (Blood at the Root excerpt)
Profile Image for Andre.
510 reviews138 followers
November 12, 2016
A microcosmic look at the intractable racism contained within the borders of the United States of America. The author does a good job of researching the white supremacist stance of the citizens of Forsyth County, GA, which of course had diasatrous effects on the Black citizenry of the county. Land, property and livestock were outtright taken as Blacks were ran out of the county in 1912 and effectively kept out until the 21st century. The author's parents moved to Forsyth County in 1977, although the author goes to great pains to insure the reader knows his folks were on the side of right and had even marched for civil rights in Bull Conner's Alabama. But the bigger question is why if you are on the side of good could you and would you tolerate so many on the side of evil and bring your seven year old into such an environment. "My parents saw Cumming (the county seat) as an appealing escape from suburban Atlanta-close enough for them to commute to jobs in the citybut far enough away that the county was stil pastoral..." Why raise your children in a bastion of white supremacy if you abhor the withholding of basic rights from your darker neighbors?

I think the book may have worked greater if he had posed this question to his parents. It is often the "good white people" that maintain a silence that allows places like this to thrive. The overtly bigoted and racist are easy to deal with, we can see them coming a mile away, it's those who operate in a complicit silence that acts as pillar to white supremacy that does the greater damage. So although property was taken and stolen from African-Americans, there were no reparations paid then or now. And, while the author doesn't try to justify the actions of Forsyth County whites, even making painfully clear that it was the citizens of the county who acted in ways both horrible and disgusting, all the while blaming outside agitators and other forces, the compilation of wrongs never seems to implicate the "good white people."

And you can't keep a county free of Blacks for decades without the silent compliance of the majority. So, even the leaders of Forsyth County were quick to remind those seeking answers, that they weren't the only county that wanted to keep Blacks out. What is most disturbing is the lack of lucid and clear history of today's Forsyth County. As the author remarked about Forsyth around 1933, but from his account just as relevant today, "Forsyth was deep in its sleep of forgetfulness."
53 reviews
November 22, 2016
As someone who grew up on the other side of Lake Lanier in Hall County, I found it an extremely unsettling experience to read about the horrifying lynch mobs and "racial cleansing" that occurred in neighboring Forsyth County, a place I know so well. So I can only imagine how unsettling it was for the author Patrick Phillips, who grew up in Forsyth, to write about them.

It's impossible for me to step back and write a straightforward review of "Blood at the Root," given my familiarity with all the names and roads and landmarks mentioned here. I vividly recall my own disbelief when I learned that one of the high schools in Forsyth had finally enrolled its first black student ... in the late 1990s. But until reading this book, I had only a vague idea as to why that was true.

The 1912 murders were only hinted about when I was growing up, as a way to quietly and quickly explain why there were almost no people of color living in Forsyth, but the background and aftermath were never fully discussed. ("They just don't want to be there" was a common explanation, and few of us questioned why.) Thankfully, Phillips did the hard but necessary work of finding the answers. His comprehensive research and compelling but chilling narrative brings the full story to light for the first time. The details of this vigilante justice, aided and abetted by local law enforcement officials, are shameful and powerful, a sobering account of life in the Jim Crow era. And for anyone who thinks racism is a vestige of the ancient past, the chapter about the 1987 civil rights march and ensuing backlash should be a reminder that not much changes in this world unless we make the effort to change it ourselves.

It's so easy to coast through life without wondering how things around us came to be, how we all ended up where we are. But it's worth asking those questions sometimes, so we can better understand our shared history -- even when that history isn't something we're proud of. Especially then.
Profile Image for Amy.
116 reviews6 followers
July 21, 2016
Phillips spent his childhood, much of it, in Forsyth County, Georgia. He learned quickly that African Americans weren't welcome and had been, in fact, run out of the county in 1912. It was a bit of trivia that he would share from time to time. Then a friend challenged him to learn more. What was the history behind the story?

So he delves into the story of a pretty typical town in 1912 America. And that is the horrible bit. Though the actions of Forsyth County (and the town of Cummings) were extreme -- Phillips makes it sound like any African American caught in the County between 1912 and . . . maybe sometime after 1988 . . . were likely to be intimated, abused, or killed -- the spirit of what was done could be seen everywhere. People claim not to be racist, they just don't want to live near black people. African Americans were chased off their land, only to have it claimed by white families who would just go to the government buildings and start paying taxes on it. The violent offenders were always passed off as strangers, though they never really were. This is all stuff that happened everywhere, it just happened bigger in Forsyth . . . which makes this a difficult mirror to look into.
Profile Image for Julia.
164 reviews8 followers
January 16, 2017
I couldn't put this book down! The idea of a town successful practicing racial cleansing for decades was totally unbelievable to me but anything is possible in America. I loved the way this story was told. I could feel the history, heartbreak and legacy of this story.
Profile Image for Caroline.
718 reviews120 followers
October 11, 2016
I would imagine that author Patrick Phillips is probably none too popular in his old hometown of Cumming, Forsyth County, Georgia. A more damning and damnable portrait could not be imagined. It makes for shocking reading.

In 1912 a group of young black men were accused of gang-raping and murdering a young white girl. Whether they were innocent or guilty was irrelevant - they were black, she was white, and someone needed to pay. The county exploded in racial violence, and in the wake of the girl's funeral the entire African-American population of Forsyth County, some thousand-odd people, were run out of town, forced to abandon jobs, homes, land, everything they owned, for fear of violence at the hands of 'night-riders', proto-Klansmen. In a complete failure of law and order, this exile was allowed to happen by mayor, sheriff, governor, and then swept under the rug and forgotten.

For the better part of 75 years Forsyth County was a whites-only zone, patrolled and policed by virulent segregationists who considered just 'existing whilst black' in Forsyth County to be a crime - even to the extent of attacking black chauffeurs driving their rich white employers through town on a driving tour of Georgia in the 1920s. The events of the rest of the country passed Forsyth by - Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King Jr. - none had any impact on a town that prided itself on its 'peaceable' nature and the lack of racial tension and conflict searing the rest of the nation, largely because there were no African-Americans in Forsyth and they intended it to stay that way. Even as late as 1987 protest marches were held in Forsyth to protest not segregation but the complete whitewashing of an entire county - decades after the high-point of the Civil Rights movement. And today, in a Forsyth County swallowed up by Atlanta's urban sprawl, there is not a single remembrance, memorial or anything to indicate the existence of a thriving African-American community destroyed by hate a century ago.

The most damning thing about this book is that Forsyth County was probably not unique. It may have been the most extreme example of attitudes prevailing not just in 1912 but in all the years since, but perhaps only because of the perfect storm of rural isolation, police complicity and civil and state failures of leadership, coupled with entrenched racism and a violent crime to light the spark. The most damning thing about Forsyth County and this book is that it could have happened anywhere across the American South, and in many diluted ways it is still happening today.
Profile Image for SeaBeThree.
14 reviews
February 9, 2017
A deeply fascinating work of non-fiction that holds the readers attention from the first pages & doesn't ever let go.

Patrick Phillips researches a town of an area in an old Georgia county where lawlessness & racism rule as the iron-clad tools of "justice". But what Phillips does is ask his readers to back up & not see just see the injustices at play; but to also understand the historical aspects & how the injustice are by design.

Tracing from the generation right before Emancipation; weaving his way laboriously through Reconstruction; touching on the technological developments & advancements of the Progressive Era; and ending in a post-Civil Rights 1980's that still grappled with the issues of equity, equality, & the color-line - Phillips never ceases to amaze how he will connect a point of the past to a principle or ideology of the present.

My questions more so are to history & not the author - who really attacked & killed Mae Crow/Crowe? I think Auntie Janie deserves her own book; how many women like Janie fled the Jim Crow South in similar circumstances with similar pain? What does history say about the men who were civic leaders by day & Ku Klux Klan members by night?? All questions the author tried to wrestle with, but didn't want to burden the manuscript with answers he simply couldn't provide.

A very thorough, cathartic, & well-researched read that can stand as a support or suggested reading for those wanting to study lynching, extrajudicial justice, the Great Migration, or property rights of minorities.

I highly recommend this work. Simply brilliant!!!
Profile Image for Andrew.
736 reviews17 followers
September 26, 2017
The author is not a trained historian - he's a poet and writing instructor - and that sometimes shows in the ways the page count is padded with block quotes and conjecture. That said, this is still an interesting micro-history. Phillips does a very good job of showing the complicated relationship between the "crackers" terrorizing Black families and the larger White economic power structure of Forsyth County. He also rightly focuses on the ways in which the White population as a whole continually absolves itself and purposely forgets the incidents of racist violence and theft that shape their home.
Profile Image for Vicki.
233 reviews56 followers
August 13, 2016
A chilling and astonishing exploration of the history of Forsyth County, Georgia where, after a rape and murder in 1912, local white citizens drove all African Americans out of the county. Forsyth County remained all-white throughout most of the 20th Century. Phillips has done his research and this is a well-written and important work for those who want to understand the history of racial violence in the United States.
Profile Image for Meredith.
333 reviews2 followers
February 4, 2017
This book is a hard read; it's heartbreaking and infuriating, but it's also an incredibly important read, and we need to learn from our mistakes and the dark points in our past lest we allow history to repeat itself. For being such a tough subject it is written very well and was a quick read; I'd definitely recommend.
Profile Image for Matt.
149 reviews24 followers
October 20, 2016
This book tells the frightful history of race relations in Forsyth County, Georgia, a county whose white population successfully expelled its blacks in a racial cleansing in 1912, and remained 'racially pure' – not even tolerating a person of color driving through or stepping over the county line – until a coordinated campaign forced change in 1987. It "is an attempt to understand how the people of my home place arrived at that moment and to trace the origins of the 'whites only' world they fought so desperately to preserve."

Part of what makes the story so intriguing is that the watershed moments of race relations in the county's history come at points in time far removed from the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. But the story nevertheless adds some definite context to the nation's struggle with race. A lot of Phillips's research hones in on the series of events in 1912, a moment in time when the black community's modest advances during Reconstruction had long since been wiped away and while blacks were free, they lacked representation and basic rights.

In 1912 Georgia, mobs regularly stormed county jails, abducted black prisoners, and administered a sanctioned vigilante justice. Those with political power or in law enforcement at best turned a blind eye, and mob actions were widely seen as righteous ones. "The provocation of the people of Forsyth was great," said one newspaper, "and they simply did what Anglo-Saxons have done North, South, East and West … where negroes have outraged white women. They formed a mob and took the law into their own hands." Another newspaper even wrote, following two mob lynchings, "they controlled themselves with remarkable self-restraint." W.E.B. DuBois wrote in 1907 that "the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves. … And tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police." It would be a difficult case to prove otherwise. Many photographs of lynchings of that era survive to this day, and a commonality between them is the hanging corpses are surrounded by earnest, satisfied white faces, people who were certainly not camera-shy. This "justice" was carried out by the moral and upstanding in society.

Essentially what happened in Forsyth is that African Americans were blamed for the violent deaths of two whites, including a young woman. Subsequent trials and lynchings did not quell the rage of some proportion of the white community. What followed was a period when the whites of Forsyth threatened members of the black community, burning churches, schools, and houses, in a coordinated campaign of terror. There was no Ku Klux Klan in 1912, and the "night riders" who conducted the attacks did not need to wear hoods. Many blacks sold their property at a fraction of its value, while others simply fled without legally selling at all. And when white men spent their nights shooting, bombing, and burning black residents out of their homes, they had the tacit support of every level of government power.

To answer why this happened in Forsyth and not in (most) other places, Phillips points in part to the origin story of Forsyth. In the 1830s, the Cherokee people were forcibly removed from that very same land, which was subsequently overrun by white speculators who in some cases helped drive off the Cherokees. Many of those same families profited from effectively the same thing, generations later. Phillips also points to the specific men in power at that time, as well as the importance of the development of technology, like the tractor, that reduced the importance of black labor in the plowing and planting of fields.

In some ways, the most horrifying stories of racism do too much to diminish the subtle but pervasive forms of racism that exist today. Lynch mobs make for great storytelling in a wild-west kind of way, but we don't rule by mob consent anymore. Crosses aren't generally burned on front lawns. But discrimination exists in many more minor forms, even at the subconscious level. And so it becomes difficult to draw parallels between 20th Century Forsyth and 21st Century America.

But the viciousness of histories like Forsyth does help underscore the scope of the systemic and sanctioned racism in our history that Americans tend to diminish too much. I often think of the monuments and museums that are pervasive throughout Berlin that acknowledge the atrocities of the Nazi era. "There is no memorial to the lynching of Rob Edwards. There are no photographs of black leaders… among all the Confederate portraits at the county Historical Society. And no marker anywhere tells new black residents that they are far from the first African Americans to live in Forsyth. Instead, gazing out over the square is a larger-than-life bronze statue of Hiram Parks Bell, Confederate Congressman, U.S. Representative, and self-described defender of 'white over black domination.'" That's what makes books like this one so important. We don't do enough in this country to recognize the deep scars from our past. If we did, perhaps more whites would be more sensitive to the irony of sloguns like "take our country back" or to the inherent injustice of stop-and-frisk law enforcement strategies.

I also credit Phillips for showing restraint and understanding about how a racist mindset can come out of ignorance. To many longtime residents, "white Forsyth" came to seem like the natural and eternal order of things. "To people who'd spent their whole lives inside the bubble of 'racial purity,' keeping Forsyth 'all white' seemed like the most natural thing in the world." The whites in the community years later believed they had "no apologies to make to anyone." "By wiping the crimes of the past out of memory, generations of otherwise decent, law-abiding white citizens could go on believing that each new violent episode was an extraordinary event, for which they bore no responsibility."

We may not all bear the responsibility of our forebears, but we do bear the responsibility of trying to understand our past and to understand how those past events created the world we now live in.
Profile Image for Audacia Ray.
Author 16 books240 followers
March 13, 2018
This is what a white person reckoning with his local history looks like. Wow. Phillips writes about Forsyth, the Georgia county he grew up in, and the racial cleansing (lynchings, forcing 1000+ blacks out of their homes, theft of black property) that white people did in 1912 and led to the county being maintained as all white for almost the next century. The research is impressive, as is his analysis of the erasure and denial of the violence that the community participated in during the latter half of the 20th century. This book didn’t exactly give me hope for white people as a whole confronting our history of violence, but it gave me hope for the possibilities of individual writings that do that work.
Profile Image for Courtney Covert.
60 reviews13 followers
October 7, 2022
My family moved to Forsyth County from MI in 2003 without knowing anything about the area’s history (beyond a general understanding of the South and its past). Over the years, bits and pieces of a heartbreaking past were shared with me, but as the author discusses, these stories are glossed over as one-off horrifying events and told as ancient history.

Forsyth County has never seemed to face the truth of its past, but I’m thankful for the work the author has done to bring to light these stories of violence, injustice, racism and Forsyth County’s horrifying vision of an exclusively white community. It’s an important read, particularly for those of use whose lives have at some point intersected with Forsyth County’s past and/or present.

This book has been out for a while, but I can only hope as more people read these accounts we will see the area face it’s past, and people like Rob Edwards, Ernest Knox, and Oscar Daniel, become the names we know and share and talk about. That Forsyth County’s past won’t be a thing that is hidden or glossed over, but instead that it would be discussed and lamented and a motivator for reparations and a better path forward.
Profile Image for Maya B.
493 reviews54 followers
June 20, 2017
3.5 stars. I would have enjoyed it more in narrative form, but it was interesting to read about a topic I never read about
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