Even given the many racially tainted chapters in U.S. history, the story of Georgia’s Forsyth County still shocks. Patrick Phillips grew up “living inside the bubble of Georgia’s notorious ‘white county’ ” where there were few blacks—and, once, there had been none. Something happened in 1912, and after that, Forsyth County was all-white and proud of it. Its citizens would go to horrific lengths for another 75 years to keep it that way. Phillips, grown and living far away, found himself “ashamed to recall how I defended my silence.” Blood at the Root is the result, an account as riveting in its historical detail as it is troubling in its foreshadowing of racial tensions today.
In 1912, after the rape and murder of young, white Mae Crow and the so-called confession by black teenager Ernest Knox, white “night riders” took matters into their own hands. After one of the three suspects was beaten, lynched and shot by a vengeful mob, blacks fled as their homes and families became targets for shooters and arsonists. Their property, crops and livestock soon fell into eager white hands. In the days and years that followed, long after the teenagers had been convicted and hanged, any black person entering the county was promptly terrorized into leaving.
Attempts at racial cleansing began long before the Jim Crow era, from the federal Indian Removal Act of 1830 through the systemic failures of Reconstruction. In Forsyth County, barring blacks altogether was the answer to any “race troubles.” This injustice would persist well beyond the reach of civil rights for decades, an ugly history kept silent—until now.