GUEST COLUMN: Blood at the Root: legend and history in Forsyth County

February 13, 2017

Three years ago, when there was highly publicized racial unrest in the national news, local citizens in Rome organized One Community United.

Believing Rome to be an exceptional town, they decided to intentionally increase dialogue and to develop new friendships across racial lines. They started meeting monthly in small diverse groups to get to know each other better and to share personal stories.

Last year the group organized its first communitywide event. Because It was the Valentine’s season, they called it HUG (Hearts United Gathering). Over 700 persons filled the Wilder Center at First United Methodist Church for music and inspirational speakers.

This year’s speaker, Patrick Phillips, is a nationally acclaimed writer and poet. His latest publication, Blood at the Root, has garnered high critical praise for the relevance of the story he tells.

Born in Atlanta, Phillips moved 40 miles north from Fulton County to Forsyth County at the age of seven. Every day he rode the school bus to Cumming Elementary School. It was on those school bus rides that he first heard stories about how “long ago” all the black people were driven out of Forsyth County. As late as the 1980s, there were signs warning blacks to be out of the county before sundown.

As a teenager, Phillips, along with his father, mother and sister, participated in Hosea Williams’ Brotherhood Marches, challenging the apartheid social system enforced by Forsyth County a mere 30 years ago.

In 2007, Patrick began a decade of research in the records of courthouses, newspapers, government reports and National Guard documents to gather the century-old facts. He interviewed the few individuals still alive who had personal memories of that tragic time almost a century ago.

The result of that investigation is Blood at the Root, a history of the facts behind all the myths and legends he had heard as a boy.

It is a meticulously documented account of what really happened in 1912, when more than 1,000 African-Americans were terrorized, beaten, lynched and driven out of the county and their property appropriated by whites.

Phillips’ narrative is the story of people long dead and forgotten. “Big” Rob Edwards, Ernest Knox, Oscar Daniel, Jane Daniels, become human beings rather than faceless myths recited by schoolchildren.

Each of us has our own life story to tell as well. If we can find ways to share our stories; if we can learn to appreciate one another’s story, then we can build a stronger community.

After Phillips leaves town, Romans from different parts of town and from different backgrounds, will continue to meet monthly in small groups as they have done for the past three years. Hopefully, others will be inspired to join them. It will be good for Rome. It will be good for all of us.

One Community United will feature Phillips at the second annual Hearts United Gathering on Feb. 17 at Rome First United Methodist Church. Pizza will be served when the doors open at 5:30 p.m. The program begins at 6:15 p.m.

R.Rex Hussmann, a retired marriage/family therapist and chaplain at Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital for 18 years, writes for the website MOVE GEORGIA FORWARD. Readers may contact him at MoveGeorgiaForward@gmail.com.