Blood At The Root
"There were long periods when Forsyth's prohibition went
untested, and largely unnoticed, at least by white Georgians. For
African Americans, the county's reputation was so well established
that it was rare for anyone to make the mistake of straying over the
line. Once in awhile, a black from Atlanta or Chattanooga would take
the risk of speeding through, and simply pray he didn't run out of gas
or get a flat tire. But more often than not, black Georgians went out
of their way to avoid Forsythe, even if it meant hours of extra
driving, or switching assignments with a coworker, or simply refusing
to go into the cracker county they'd been warned about since they were
If I'd read the above paragraph out of context, I might have
thought it was from a fiction book, maybe penned by Stephen King or a
Southern genre mate. The truth is even more creepy than King and all
his fellow horror writers come up with because it is real life.
Patrick Phillips' Blood At The Root: A Racial Cleansing In America
concerns a little known chapter of Georgia's history.
The narrative begins in 1912. Are you seeing a pattern from our
reading here? The Texas Rangers slaughtered Tejanos (Shame The
Stars) often just for being of Mexican origin. Nativists and
eugenicists attempted to limit citizenship to the right castes,
keeping less desirables from entering America or being born
(Im•Be•Ciles; Three Generations, No Imbeciles). I believe we can
hypothesize that the second decade of the twentieth century was not a
good time in the United States to be anything but wealthy WASP (White
Anglo Saxon Protestant).
On September 10, 1912 Forsythe County, Georgia was in a state of
racial tension. Days earlier a woman screamed, claiming to have been
"awakened by the presence of a negro man in her bed." When suspects
had been rounded up the militia had to be called in to get them (and a
black preacher who had been whipped nearly to death for alluding to
the victim as a "sorry white woman") out of the county and away from
the armed huge white mob that wanted to lynch them and burn their
bodies so they would be alive to stand trial. An incident in the
mountains had added fuel to the fire. Many white denizens believed
that their worst fears were coming to fruition. The blacks were
rising up to kill them (of course after violating their women) and
steal or destroy their property.
September 9 18-year-old Mae Crow did not arrive at her aunt's
house where she had agreed to meet her mother. Hours passed. Search
parties scoured the area. The next morning she was found brutally
beaten and unconscious. One suspect was coerced into confessing by
being threatened with a noose. Another was lynched by a blood thirsty
The chilling sights of a public whipping and a lynching and the
knowledge that increasing numbers of whites were armed and dangerous
had black people fleeing the rural county. Night riders, armed with
guns, kerosene, and dynamite targeted the homes and churches of blacks
to hasten their goal of a white only county. The terrorism
accelerated after Mae Crow's death from her injuries.
"Generation after generation, Forsyth County remained 'all
white,' even as the Great War, the Spanish influenza, World War II,
and the civil rights movements came and went, and as kudzu crept up
over the remnants of black Forsyth. The people of the county, many
descended from the lynchers and night riders, shook their heads as the
South changed around them. They read about the clashes in Montgomery,
and Savannah, and Selma, and felt proud of their county's old
fashioned ways, its unspoiled beauty, and a peacefulness that they saw
as a direct result of having 'run the niggers out.'...In truth, many
in Forsyth believed that 'racial purity' was their inheritance and
birthright. And like their fathers' fathers' fathers, they saw even a
single black face as a threat to their entire way of life."
Racism is the major theme of Blood At The Root. However,
classism is strongly intertwined. Not all whites wanted the night
riders to accomplish their goal. The disapprovers acted from vested
self interest, not a moral imperative. Some were aghast that their
wives and daughters, minus maids, had to demean themselves by cooking
and cleaning. Others, wanting to bring modern prosperity to their
county, did not want investors to be disuaded by images of mob
violence. In a telling episode, after a tour of wealthy whites had
been persuaded to put Forsythe on their itinerary, they had to flee
for the county line when a mob of irate citizens tried to assault
their black chauffeurs. It's not exactly what you want when you're
aiming for good publicity.
Also many of the night riders were descended from land owners.
Circumstances beyond their control had brought them down to share
lower rungs on the economic ladder and compete with blacks for work as
hired hands and sharecroppers. See any resemblance to many white men
today losing decent paying jobs or the hope of obtaining them to
outsourcing and automation?
I see Blood At The Root as a must read in today's world.
Emboldened by the current White House occupant, white supremacists are
putting out literature that sounds alarmingly like that of the not so
good old days and hate crimes are on the rise.
Remember: those who fail to learn from history are doomed to
On a personal note, my good friend and former editor has been helping
me greatly with my op ed pieces, reading over and commenting on ones I
run by him. My own editing skills are really improving, not only for
my nonfiction but for my poetry.
A great big shout out (and thanks) go out to Matthew Stone who does
investigative work for the BDN and knows how to make policy and
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