A search for new ways to remember the 1912 racial cleansing in Forsyth County

Latresha Jackson said she fears the backlash from critical race theory — college-level courses not taught in Georgia public schools — is giving administrators an excuse to block the teaching of ‘real history’ of Forsyth County.

“We have parents banning books, we have people yelling about critical race theory who miss the whole point of American history. All of that has been put on hold,” she said at Friday’s meeting, which was attended by a few dozen community leaders and volunteers. “It’s total denial.”

A county official did not dispute that other projects to teach students from eighth grade onwards about the attacks had been postponed, although she added that historians were still planning to develop lessons.

The racial violence of 1912 was sparked by the murder of a white woman. A lynch mob attacked and hanged a suspect; later, two teenagers were executed in public after a speedy trial. Vigilantes terrorized Forsyth’s black residents – then about 10% of the county’s population – and forced 1,098 people to flee.

For decades, the county continued to have a reputation as a haven for hatred for many black Georgians. Several descendants of victims told the meeting that they grew up avoiding Forsyth County, warned by relatives haunted by the violence of 1912 to stay away from the area, especially after dark.

A pair of civil rights marches in the late 1980s — the first included violent clashes with white supremacists — garnered a torrent of national attention — and the first significant signs of change. On 4% of the population of the department is now Black, a small but growing number.

Many descendants of the victims are still unaware of their heritage. Elon Osby’s mother was 2 years old when her family stuffed all the belongings they could fit into a wagon and left behind their 60-acre lot, now a pristine subdivision for up-and-coming families. She talks about what happened more than a few centuries ago whenever she gets the chance, in part to inspire others to embrace their history.

“There is some hesitation to come out, but we have to get over that,” she said. “Every time we tell this story, someone new hears about it. If there’s a motto for me, it’s keep telling the story so it doesn’t happen again.”

Friday’s rally was organized with the help of U.S. Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux, who drafted a resolution condemning racist violence, acknowledging its impact on the Black Community’s National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Forced Migration. It was co-sponsored by all Democratic members of the Georgia House delegation.

“We need to have these conversations,” said Bourdeaux, who said he read “Blood on the Root” shortly after deciding to run for office to better understand Forsyth County’s history. “Members of the white community need to understand what happened.”

Osby said she understands why some Forsyth County leaders may be embarrassed about their children knowing about the shameful episode. But considering the community’s past, she said, is the first step to healing.

“It gives me hope,” Osby said, scanning the room of dozens of multiracial attendees, including a number of college students. “I know everyone here will tell that story. And that gives me hope that it won’t happen again.

Amanda J. Marsh