CUMMING, Ga. — In October 1912, after the raped and brutalized body of Mae Crow, an 18-year-old white girl, was buried next to the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, white men in Forsyth County turned on a rampage, driving its 1,098 black citizens – about 10% of the population – from Forsyth’s borders.
They had already dragged Rob Edwards, a 24-year-old black man, out of a jail cell in Cumming’s town square, beat him with crowbars, riddled his body with bullets and hoisted him to the above a telephone pole. Two black teenagers, 16-year-old Ernest Knox and 18-year-old Oscar Daniel, are said to be hanged after the most specious of trials.
But the citizens of this county north of Atlanta were not done. For much of the 20th century, they would guard Forsyth’s borders as the city to the south encroached, through violence, intimidation, and a menacing understanding in Greater Atlanta that this county should remain whites-only.
The people who drove Forsyth’s black residents from their homes and farms had no names for their hatred, no “great replacement” or “white genocide” theories. But the idea that other races were plotting to ‘replace’ the county’s rightful inhabitants took on a murderous form more than a century ago, said Patrick Phillips, whose eye-catching 2016 book ‘Blood at the Root’ chronicled the county’s racial cleansing. he grew up in – and his own awakening to the fact of his all-white childhood.
A small group of black farmers were beginning to prosper, acquiring land and surpassing some of their white neighbors, Mr Phillips said.
They had to leave.
If those who carried out mass shootings in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, El Paso and Christchurch, New Zealand, showed how deadly such beliefs could be in the hands of a single well-armed killer, Forsyth County of 1912 showed what a more organized operation of terror could accomplish.
But a century later, Forsyth County is also refuting white supremacists who believe that, as Payton Gendron, the indicted Buffalo gunman, said, “Diversity is not strength. The century reserved for the whites of the county was one of stagnation and isolation. It wasn’t until Greater Atlanta’s sprawl finally overwhelmed Forsyth’s defenses in the late 1990s and 2000s that this county exploded.
“It stigmatized Forsyth County for many, many years, and for some it still exists,” said Jason May, 48, a white owner of a real estate company just off the town square in Cumming.
And it’s booming.
Its population is now over 260,000, down from 45,000 when the remnants of all-white Forsyth began to disappear. The black population, at 2.2% in 2000, is still only 4.4% – Alpharetta, just above the Fulton county line, is 12% black. But other demographic groups have grown significantly, including immigrants. Asians, particularly American Indians, make up 15.5% and Hispanics 9.7%. The median household income, at $112,834, just passed Calvert County, Maryland, to become the 13th highest in the nation. It was $44,162 in 1993, or $89,500 in current dollars.
“Diversity can never be bad in my book; I’m sorry,’ said Barbra Curtiss, 71, a white businesswoman whose real estate company off Cumming’s town square includes a banner welcoming her new agent, Maria Zaragosa, as well as ‘Spanglish’ services “. “Diversity is like death and taxes. You won’t be able to stop it, no matter what. No matter how many hate speeches, how many mass shootings, it’s not going to stop. »
Ms Curtiss, who moved to Forsyth County in 1984, knew of her whites-only status while living in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, when her husband at the time – a ‘racist’, said – she said – wanted to move to an all-white county. Three years later, in 1987, a small group of local and Atlanta-based civil rights activists, led by Hosea Williams, boarded buses from Atlanta to Forsyth County to mark the 75th anniversary of the expulsion of blacks. They were greeted with Confederate flags and signs proclaiming “Racial purity is Forsyth’s safety” and “Forsyth stay white.” And when they tried to march on Cumming, they were pelted with rocks, bottles and bricks, until they retreated to their buses back in Atlanta.
A few weeks later, this time with national media attention, helicopters overhead and a phalanx of National Guardsmen clearing their way, the marchers returned in far greater numbers – this time with Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few.
Among the walkers was Miguel Marcelli, a black Atlanta firefighter, who in 1980 made the mistake of joining his girlfriend’s company picnic on the Forsyth County shores of Lake Lanier, and nearly paid with his life after the couple were ambushed on their way home. They were less than a mile from Mae Crow’s grave. In November 1986, five Hispanic construction workers were beaten and told they would be killed if they did not leave the county immediately.
Yet despite all the publicity, Forsyth remained almost entirely white. Ms Curtiss recalled her first non-white client, “a little Hispanic guy” in the early 2000s, who came to her after other real estate brokers refused their services.
“All I remember is it was heartbreaking, because he said no one else would tell him the time of day,” she said.
Tony Shivers, 72, remembers exactly when the first black man was hired by the town of Cumming: It was 30 years ago, and it was this man. He was laying pipes for a contractor in Cumming; the city likes his job and hires him at the sewage treatment plant. There was a sign outside the sheriff’s office warning black people — using a racial slur — that they better not get caught by the dogcatcher in Forsyth County after dark.
His friends in Atlanta had told him he was crazy to go to Forsyth County, and he said he remembered the incidents when he was told to go back to where he belonged. But he had been in the Marines. He wasn’t going to be intimidated.
Many in the county do not know its history. Ms Zaragosa said she was unaware of the county’s past. Instead, she struck a note that many others here do: “Our primary focus is business,” she said, just two months into her job at the real estate agency, which, like others, announces: “Se habla Español”.
For others, stories are essential. The county has made no attempt to bury its history: a plaque in Cumming’s public square tells the story of Mr Edward’s lynching and subsequent racial cleansing.
“The loss of black-owned property in order to escape arbitrary mob violence was common in this era, and black residents of Forsyth left behind their homes and farms to escape, taking with them only what they could carry,” it read.
Indeed, much of Forsyth’s per capita wealth was generated by the vast increase in the value of the properties which had remained in the possession of the ancient Forsyth families for a century – much of this property taken from someone another.
Outside Cherians International Fresh Market, an Asian grocery store on the outskirts of Cumming, Avani Vallabhaneni spoke of the perseverance of newcomers to Forsyth. When she and her husband arrived 12 years ago, she said, she heard neighbors whispering behind her back that she should go back where she came from. Her husband, who travels for work, once showed his business card to a savvy Georgian, who marveled at living in Cumming.
But she had her two children in Forsyth County, and the Indian population has grown so much, she says, that she no longer hears those whispers.
Others still hear similar whispers today, though race isn’t necessarily the irritant.
Like Reverend Bogdan Maruszak, the pastor of a small flock of immigrants. He started his Ukrainian Orthodox Church in a trailer, on land outside Cumming, in 2000, bringing together Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians and others, all white, in forbidden territory in North Georgia, where he made ends meet by opening a body shop. He vaguely knew Forsyth’s story.
“I was thinking about it, but I wasn’t nervous,” the Ukrainian-Polish immigrant said over iced tea and lemonade just across the Fulton county line in Johns Creek .
As the war in Ukraine heightens fears of genocide and mass shootings in Buffalo draw attention to “white replacement”, Reverend Maruszak said, it is incumbent upon all of Forsyth County, not just its newcomers, to express themselves and express themselves. for those who are threatened.
“We cannot passively observe,” he said. “We can do something. We should react.
This cannot be taken for granted, said Mr Phillips, the author of “Blood at the Root”.
Forsyth’s progress and remarkable prosperity may be proof that white supremacy is an obstacle, he said, but the county should not be credited with the epiphany. The Atlanta spread moved steadily north until the wave “finally swept over Forsyth County,” he said.
“What you would like to believe,” Mr. Phillips said, “is that there was a moral shift, people saw the error in their ways and a switch clicked.”
But that’s not what happened, he said.