Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

Patrick Phillips's Blood at the Root examines the 1912 murder of Mae Crow, a young white woman assaulted and killed in Forsyth County, Ga. Mae's community quickly blamed three young black men in the area for her death. Mobs of angry white people celebrated the swift hanging of the teens; fear and hatred peaked, ultimately leading to the forced expulsion of every black resident of the county (which remained all white up until the 1980s).

Blood at the Root offers more than a true crime account of a horrific (and unsolved) 20th-century murder; Phillips (National Book Award finalist for the poetry collection Elegy for a Broken Machine) provides an analysis of that crime's repercussions, placing the fallout from Mae's murder squarely in the context of Forsyth's racist history. He rebuilds the racially checkered history of the county, starting with the forceful removal of the Cherokee in the 1830s and continuing up to the violent all-white counter-protests against 1987 civil rights marchers in the area. Raised in Forsyth County, Phillips reflects on his own experiences as a white man in an all-white county, merging his personal recollections of the 1987 marches with historical records to great effect.

"If history is written by the victors," writes Phillips, "a hundred years after the expulsions the victorious white people of Forsyth have successfully written the racial cleansing completely out of mind." Blood at the Root is an attempt to right that wrong, piecing together oral histories, photographs, court documents and newspaper stories to tell a story that has too long been "safely hidden in plain sight." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

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