Summary and book reviews of Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips

Blood at the Root

A Racial Cleansing in America

by Patrick Phillips

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mollie Smith Waters

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About this Book

Book Summary

A gripping tale of racial cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia, and a harrowing testament to the deep roots of racial violence in America.

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. Many black residents were poor sharecroppers, but others owned their own farms and the land on which they'd founded the county's thriving black churches.

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. In the wake of the expulsions, whites harvested the crops and took over the livestock of their former neighbors, and quietly laid claim to "abandoned" land. 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.

Blood at the Root is a sweeping American tale that spans the Cherokee removals of the 1830s, the hope and promise of Reconstruction, and the crushing injustice of Forsyth's racial cleansing. With bold storytelling and lyrical prose, Phillips breaks a century-long silence and uncovers a history of racial terrorism that continues to shape America in the twenty-first century.

INTRODUCTION
LAW OF THE LAND

All night, as Mae Crow drifted in and out of consciousness, searchers called through the pines, the sound of her name rising and fading into the drone of the tree frogs. There, in the woods along the Chattahoochee River, in the Appalachian foothills north of Atlanta, she'd been beaten and left to die, and now lay too bloodied and breathless to answer. Near dawn, as the first rays of sunlight dappled the gulley, a farmer who'd known Mae all her life came stamping down a narrow footpath. He stopped in his tracks, turned, and hollered for the others to come.

By the next day—September 10th, 1912—the Forsyth County sheriff had arrested three young black suspects. And while it would take two months and three separate deployments of the Georgia National Guard before Ernest Knox, sixteen, and Oscar Daniel, eighteen, were formally tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang, for the third prisoner, a 24-year-old man named Rob Edwards, death came ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

An engaging portrait of the South’s haunting legacy, the lessons of Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America will stick with readers long after they have completed the book. Regrettably, they are lessons Americans still need to learn, for many black Americans today continue to experience racial injustice. Incidents like Trayvon Martin’s murder and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri are modern reminders of how much work Americans need to do to eradicate racial intolerance. The plight for equality in the United States continues.   (Reviewed by Mollie Smith Waters).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

There are few heroes in this accounting, which stands as a sobering reminder that the racial fantasies and fears that have ruled so much of our history only continue to haunt the present.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is a gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism, and Phillips tells it with rare clarity and power.

Booklist

Starred Review. Phillips brings a journalist's crisp perspective to this precise and disquieting account of a reprehensible and underreported chapter in America's racial history.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An impressive reckoning with a shameful piece of the past that 'most natives of Forsyth would prefer to leave ... scattered in the state's dusty archives or safely hidden in plain sight'.

Author Blurb Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
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.

Author Blurb U.S. Congressman John Lewis, author of March
There are places the civil rights movement literally passed by, and for decades Forsyth County was one of those pockets. Blood at the Root is a vital investigation of Forsyth's history, and of the process by which racial injustice is perpetuated in America.

Author Blurb Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
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 sets us free, this book will give you wings.

Author Blurb W. Ralph Eubanks, author of Ever is a Long Time: A Journey in Mississippi's Dark Past
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… What he reveals in this important book does not make this chilling piece of the past any easier to bear, but he brings it into sharper focus, which is long overdue.

Author Blurb Taylor Branch, author of Parting the Waters
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.

Author Blurb Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Native Guard and former U.S. Poet Laureate
A powerful, timely and necessary reckoning with the past.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow Law in ActionPatrick Phillips' non-fiction book Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America examines a specific rape and murder of a white girl that occurred in 1912, in Forsyth County, Georgia. It also examines, more broadly, the South during that time. Following the end of the Civil War and the passage of Constitutional Amendments Thirteen through Fifteen between 1865-1870, former slaves gained civil liberties and basic human rights they could have only dreamed of just a few years earlier.

In the 1870s, African Americans held political positions for the first time in history at both the local and state levels – and in late 1872, Pinckney Pinchback became America's first African American governor (Louisiana). His time in the position ...

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