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Remember: Rep Bourdeaux, descendants of Forsyth County racial cleansing, and the greater community

Friday, February 18th (2022) is not just another day for all who congregate the hallowed halls of Poplar Hill Baptist Church (located at 234 E Shadburn Ave in Buford, GA). It's a day of reconciliation and thoughtful, focused action in addressing a long overdue atrocity which takes place 110 years prior.

Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA-07) hosts a day of remembrance with descendants of a massacre long swept under the rug, the 1912 Racial Cleansing. Presided by Pastor Avery Headd, the graphic and forced exile of African-American residents in Forsyth County starts in the fall of 1912 when Ellen Grice accuses two African-American men (Tony Howell and Isaiah Purkle) of rape; as a result, the men are executed without due process or any investigation.

And if that isn't appalling, the situation gets worse later that year.

As chronicled in the book by Dr. Patrick Phillips (Blood on the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America), the discovery of the body of Mae Crowe is already problematic. To make matters worse, the Caucasian mob imprisons three African-American men who are in the vicinity of her corpse (Rob Edwards, Earnest Knox, and Oscar Daniel). Imprisoned without any investigation, once coerced into admitting to committing a murder/crime they did not commit, one is immediately lynched and the other two, after a 1-day trial without due process, are executed (in the same day after their trial).

However, the carnage does not stop there. The ruthlessness and absence of humanity shown by the Night Riders (affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan) and others, institutions in the African-American community, including their homes, businesses, places of worship, and others are ransacked. As an ultimatum, even those who own property, all African-American residents are to leave, or else.

For years, there's few if any African-Americans (or other demographics) residing in the county.

Awareness in the late 1980's given the efforts of Hosea Williams (and the Oprah Winfrey Show), the seeds of change are slowly planted by the end of the decade and early part of the 1990's. With continued efforts from the descendants of those from the massacre along with the nonprofit and faith communities, the day's event provides a means of continued and thoughtful conversation and action to come to face this overlooked history, identify the residual effects, and work towards reducing the potential of this kind of activity from ever taking place.

Along with Representative Bourdeaux and Pastor Headd, the panel of Deacon Billy Green, Judge (Gwinnett County) Rodney Harris, Pastor James B. Nuckolls, Elon Butts-Osby, and Pastor Gerald Sneed discuss the history, present, and future given the culminating factor of the massacre:

  1. Deacon Green. With a family history in the area (and at the time of the forced exile), he notes how few (if any) directly impacted want to discuss the tragedy. In fact, in not speaking to the issue, some history is lost. Given the polarizing climate of the county leading up to the massacre (1877-1912), an adverse residual effect is seen in the 1950's in Hall County (i.e. Spencer Hill Church, along with the removal of African-Americans from Oscarville coinciding with the flooding of the area to create Lake Lanier).

  2. Judge Harris. With family ties to Northern Gwinnett County (and the interlocking area), he notes extended family property ownership (formerly a family cemetery) along with the notion of "get in the wagon - we "gotta" go" given the events of 1912.

  3. Pastor Nuckolls. As a descendant (via Alexander Nuckolls, Sr), the event is rarely (if ever discussed), along with working (in the county) under the notion of the county being noted for "Sunset Towns (i.e. places that are unsafe for African-Americans literally and figuratively)" once the sun actually sets (turns to nightfall). By the same token, with a focus on all having the capacity to "treat everybody right", he calls for an attitude change and renewed focus on engagement with the goal of better understanding someone else/other people.

  4. Ms. Buts-Osby. A descendant of those who survive the wanton destruction, she is unaware of what takes place until the age of 30, as it is too painful for her mother (and other relatives) to speak on it. Only when her mother musters the strength during an interview to speak to the facts does it truly hit home of how hard it is to pass down that kind of history (survival). When she returns to the county in 2007 (and meets with Judge Bagley, whose descendants are among those who play a part in the forced exile of the African-American community), it is the first time any of her family members set foot in the county since the event; this is a 95 year banishment from the area.

  5. Representative Bourdeaux. With Dr. Phillips' book being the gateway to discovering the ransacking and disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the county (Forsyth), she takes even more seriously and sincerely the need to connect with the greater community. Ranging from having challenging (yet necessary) conversations and coalition building, with a focus on discussion, healing, and developing policy (among other focused action), the goal is to help all demographics progress and reduce the potential for any citizens to experience the level of vitriol of those fateful days of 1912 (and beyond).

  6. Pastor Sneed. A resident of the county for more than 30 years, he too gets more familiar with what takes place via Dr. Phillips' book. In taking things a step further and working alongside his peers in the faith community and others, while not knowing all that needs to be done, understanding doing something is better than doing nothing about the situation. As a result, a scholarship fund is setup to provide access to resources (higher education) to children of the descendants of the 1912 massacre (to date, approximately $107,000 is raised).

The Q/A with attendees covers a wide array of topics. Whether looking at the historical and present day ramifications of the massacre to contemporary issues, all can mark signs of progress, as well as areas of concern which cannot go unchecked. The presence of additional community entities, including (but not limited to) the Community Remembrance Project of Forsyth County and the Historical Society of Cumming/Forsyth County, provide signs of recognition (including the marker in downtown Cumming to Juneteenth programming) and other coalition and community engaging and building efforts.

"It is our responsibility to shine a light on these wrongs and reaffirm our commitment to fighting for a more just community. This resolution is one step towards justice and reconciliation for our North Georgia communities and one way we can elevate the truth of our region's past", notes Representative Bourdeaux.

110 years in the making.

A long road to travel with a journey yet to complete.

For a day, hosted by Representative Bourdeaux in bringing together different segments of the greater community in Georgia's 7th Congressional District, positive steps are being made.

And more steps are on the horizon.

Notes: All photography and video recorded by Andrew Snorton.

Photo gallery: The photos from the first gallery include (from the top row/left-right) snapshots of Representative Bourdeaux, Pastor Headd, a member of the Community Remembrance Project of Forsyth County, Deacon Green, Judge Harris, the entire panel, a view of part of the audience, and a closeup of Ms. Butts-Osby and Pastor Nuckolls. The photos from the second gallery include Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside, a member of the Historical Society of Cumming/Forsyth County, Ms. Butts-Osby, and Representative Bourdeaux with Ms. Butts-Osby.

Video: The video includes the welcome from Representative Bourdeaux and Pastor Headd, multple portions of the roundtable and Q/A with the media and audience, along with recaps from Ms. Butts-Osby, Pastor Nuckolls, and members of the Community Remembrance Project of Forsyth County.


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