- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 20, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393293017
- ISBN-13: 978-0393293012
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 117 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America 1st Edition
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About the Author
Patrick Phillips is an award-winning poet, translator, and professor. A Guggenheim and NEA Fellow, his poetry collection, Elegy for a Broken Machine, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Phillips teaches at Stanford University.
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Ironically, Reconstruction had brought some remedy after the Civil War to freed slaves in the county. A few became landowners, and some of those became truly prosperous. But of course Reconstruction was an affront to the prevailing supremacist ethic of most white men. As the Freedman's Bureau closed up shop, black families were more vulnerable.
The beginnings of the story, which center on the attack and subsequent death of a young white woman and the resulting lynchings of young black men accused in her death, are almost unbearable to read. Phillips is a poet, and he has an eye for the drama. We see the sister of a young man lynched shortly after the attack turn state's witness against another brother and a cousin. We see lawyers and county officials carefully set up a quick trial and executions and watch passively as a mob burns down a fence meant to screen out bloodthirsty spectators.(Some of these same characters will soon be involved in permitting the lynching of Jewish factory owner Leo Frank in nearby Marietta.)
Eventually, black families are forced off their land by threats to their lives, whether or not they are associated with attacks on whites. Many fled to more tolerant surroundings in Gainesville and Tate, Georgia.
The descendants of both the Forsyth perpetrators and the victims are around today, and Phillips doesn't flinch from mentioning names. He tracks down black family members who can recall the stories their elders told of being forced to leave their homes and land with no chance for adequate compensation. And he reports on the unrepentant satisfaction the descendants of the segregationists in keeping the county free of any black residents. No reparations appear to be offered even now.
Not until 1987 does anyone challenge this all-white territory that defies federal law. A newcomer and local business owner decides to take on the issue. He plans a march that finds support with civil rights activists in nearby Atlanta. People gather for the march, and the police shield the marchers for a while but urge them to get back on the bus. Even Hosea Williams, who was a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr., remarks on the vitriol of people in Cummings, the county seat.
Eventually, though, Forsyth County and Cummings realize they can no longer resist black citizens. The area is now an exurb of Atlanta, and the city's employers need a place for a diverse work force to live. For those who hold land (both that they bought and that they confiscated from absent black owners) this is a great opportunity. Neighborhoods with impressive homes sprout, and, Phillips speculates, the occupants probably have no idea of the history of the land they live on.
So much of the behavior Phillips describes echoes in the racial tensions across our nation today. We see how the status quo supports outrageous infringements on innocent lives and how difficult it is to change course once a precedent is established. There were other "sundown" communities in America where anyone who wasn't white knew they had to leave before the sun set or face deadly force, but this is the first I've learned about in Georgia, and I recommend this book to anyone who cares about racial justice.