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This is a stunning account of the tragic and brutal history of Forsyth County, Georgia, and the campaign of atrocious racial terror used to force African Americans out of the community and to keep the area “all white” into the 1990s. Extensively researched and carefully constructed, it is a shocking story from our collective past that needs to be acknowledged and shared. The ugly tendencies toward racism and violence are not gone from our society; facing the truth of the past is only a small step, but it is a first step and an important step. Phillips’ compelling narrative, powerful prose, and personal honesty will help start that journey.
"[A] vital investigation of Forsyth’s history, and of the process by which racial injustice is perpetuated in America." —U.S. Congressman John Lewis
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. 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. 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. In precise, vivid prose, Blood at the Root delivers a "vital investigation of Forsyth’s history, and of the process by which racial injustice is perpetuated in America" (Congressman John Lewis).
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 lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Stanford University.
[M]eticulously and elegantly reveals the power of white supremacy…to distort and destroy, not only lives and accomplishments, but historical memory, the law, and basic human civility. — Carol Anderson - New York Times
Deeply researched and crisply written, Blood at the Root is an impressive and timely case study of the racial violence and historical amnesia that characterize much of American history. Phillips…is a gifted storyteller.
— Matthew Delmont - Boston Globe
[P]rovides a fascinating glimpse into how Forsyth County…managed to stave off racial progress despite being only about 40 miles away from Atlanta, the base of operations for civil rights warrior Martin Luther King Jr.…Phillips’ book feels timely, unapologetically discussing the way fear, panic, ignorance and timing may have kept Forsyth County trapped in the past. — William Lee - Chicago Tribune
[H]umanizes its subjects and brims with detail….[G]raphic, unflinching, important. — Jennifer Senior - New York Times
So timely and necessary—a powerful reckoning with the past. — Natasha Tretheway, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Native Guard and recent U.S. Poet Laureate
Nothing undermines social justice more than our collective ignorance about the racial terrorism that haunts too many places in America. Blood at the Root is a must-read, thorough, detailed, and powerful. It’s a story we need to know and never forget.
— Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
This extraordinary book lays bare a telling paradox of historical amnesia and unforgettable terror. Behind the fearsome legend of Forsyth County, Georgia, Patrick Phillips finds more of America than we would like. — Taylor Branch, author of Parting the Waters
The burden of Southern history lies not in what we know about the past but what we do not know. Patrick Phillips uncovers an important untold piece of history in Blood at the Root: racial cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia. What he reveals in this important book does not make this chilling piece of the past any easier to bear, but he does bring it into sharper focus, which is long overdue.
— W. Ralph Eubanks, author of Ever is a Long Time
Some would say that Patrick Phillips should leave well enough alone and keep quiet…But [his] voice is too honest, too brave, and too brilliant to be silenced. With a poet’s gift for music, and with a detective’s dedication to the facts, Blood at the Root faces the specter of a bloody history without turning its back on the hope that the present has brought us. If the truth set us free, this book will give you wings.