W.W. Norton, 2016
"... the young fellers are growing up sort of with the idea that this is a white man's county." -- (119)
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, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America, 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.
The author, Patrick Phillips, had lived in Forsyth county, having moved there as a child from Alabama. It's not like he wasn't used to racism but when he heard some kids on his school bus making racial slurs, he finally asked a friend "why everyone in the county seemed to hate black people so much, especially since there were none of them around." It was then that he heard a story that stuck with him and prompted him to start a search for the truth, wondering if perhaps it wasn't "just a racist fantasy." In 2003 he found something that started him on his journey. Doing some other research, he decided to check out that old story, got online, typed in "Forsyth" and "1912" into an old newspaper database and found out that yes indeed, the story he'd been told was absolutely true. More than anything, it was a photograph in the October 4th issue of the Atlanta Constitution that gave him his first glimpses of the "faces of black Forsyth," in a story with the caption "Troops on Guard as Two Rapists Are Convicted: Story of Revolting Assault Arouses Great Indignation in Cumming Court."
|courtesy of Powells.com|
Stop for a moment and think about what I just said here about African-Americans not even being able to even enter the county until 1987. You might ask "what about the civil rights movement of the 1960s," and the simple answer would be that it didn't happen for Forsyth. You might also ask why a book about events in 1912 is something you should read in 2016. The answer for me is this: just this past summer I was in the middle of my morning routine of journal reading, perusing the news and going through my facebook news feed, and came across this photo of a billboard for a congressional candidate in Tennessee:
To say that I was appalled and actually screamed out loud is putting it mildly, but getting back to Blood at the Root, it's obvious to me that the desire to "make America white again" mirrors Forsyth's "this is a white man's county" and this ugliness hasn't died out at all.
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 on an emotional level -- seems like we're doing a backslide into this sort of intolerant, ugly and just downright frightening behavior yet again. 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 already 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.
So far, this book is picking up excellent reader reviews; as I said, it's a tough book to get through but it's also a story that needs to come out into the open air. Very well done and highly, highly recommended.