“Gripping and meticulously documented.”—Don Schanche Jr., Washington Post
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. 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. 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. In precise, vivid prose, Blood at the Root delivers a “vital investigation of Forsyth’s history, and of the process by which racial injustice is perpetuated in America” (Congressman John Lewis).
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 expos 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.
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Blood at the root
A well written,well researched & painfully wonderful book. Painful because I came up in somewhat similar circumstances in west Tennessee. I am white & don't know which side I would have been on had I been in Forsythe County,Ga. 1912! Dr. James Roy Appleton Jr.