cover image Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

Patrick Phillips. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-29301-2

Poet and translator Phillips (Elegy for a Broken Machine) employs his considerable writing skills to chronicle the racism that held Forsyth County, Ga., in its grip for three quarters of the 20th century. In 1912, an unknown person or persons raped two white women in Forsyth County, one of whom died of her injuries. As a result, a black man was beaten to death by a white mob, and two other black men, their guilt unclear, were convicted of the crime and hanged in a public execution. Forsyth’s white residents decided the executions were not sufficient retribution, and they subjected the county’s 1,100 African-American residents to a reign of terror that forced all of them to abandon their homes. The deeply embedded racism of a county functionally immune from law was sufficiently powerful to keep Forsyth County completely white for 75 years. On Jan. 17, 1987, a civil rights march 20,000 strong in the county seat, Cumming, brought the scourge of unmitigated white power to national attention, forcing the beginnings of integration. Phillips enhances his exposé of this violent and shameful history through interviews with descendants of the white families who brazenly exiled the county’s black community as well as the descendants of those forced to leave. This is a gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism, and Phillips tells it with rare clarity and power. Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media. (Sept.)