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Author discusses shameful episode in local history
Phillips' book 'Blood at the Root' chronicles racial purge in early 20th century Forsyth County
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Attendees pack Grace Episcopal Church during a discussion and book signing in Gainesville on Saturday by author Patrick Phillips. - photo by David Barnes

The Rev. Stuart Higginbotham, rector at Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville, took note of a full house on a Saturday afternoon.

“With these many people, we have to take up an offering,” Higginbotham cracked.

Scores turned out to hear from National Book Award finalist Patrick Phillips discuss his latest work, “Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America.”

Higginbotham noted that the conversation sparked by the book is not necessarily pleasant, but is one that should be a reminder to all “to reach out and welcome the immigrant, the orphan in our midst.”

Phillips told the audience he had heard as a 7-year-old child in Forsyth County “the old ghost story” dating to the fall of 1912 that inspired him to write the book. Three young black men had been accused of the rape and murder of an 18-year-old white woman, Mae Crow.

Following the lynching of the accused men, bands known as “Night Riders” terrorized African-Americans by firing shots into their homes, killing livestock and forcing the entire black population of 1,098 to flee the county. Many sought refuge 11 miles away in Gainesville and parts of Hall County.

Phillips said white mobs in Hall County attempted to inflict the same kind of terror on African-Americans as they had in Forsyth. He said such violence was met with resistance from the community at large, and those who took part in the violence were identified in newspaper accounts.

“In Forsyth, no one broke the code of silence,” Phillips said.

Gainesville City Councilwoman Barbara Brooks, an active member of the Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society, helped to organize the event. Phillips credited Brooks with aiding his research for the book by getting him in touch with descendents of the 1912 expulsion.