Blood at the Root should be required reading. It is a beautifully written, straightforward, and striking account of a turbulent time in American history. Author Patrick Phillips grew up in Forsyth County, Georgia, which was an “all white” community until the late 1990’s. Sifting through decades of news, propaganda, urban myth and family stories to find the truth, Phillips focuses on the pivotal events, people, and circumstances which resulted in the massive racial cleansing of 1912. Inserting himself into the story offers a brilliant way to draw the rest of us in as well. We are all implicated, we can all make a difference, and Blood at the Root’s lessons are almost unbearably timely. Yet this hardly touches on the complexities and rewards of this stunning book. I hope you will read it, and pass it on.
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.