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WATCH: Bourdeaux introduces resolution to condemn 1912 lynchings
Carolyn Bourdeaux
Carolyn Bourdeaux.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux introduced a resolution on Wednesday, Feb. 9 to condemn the lynchings of three Black men in Forsyth County in 1912.

Bourdeaux announced the resolution during Wednesday’s House session, where she urged other members to “reaffirm this body’s commitment to fighting white supremacy and seeking justice to right the wrongs of our past.”

“Today I’m introducing a resolution condemning the lynchings of Rob Edwards, Oscar Daniel and Ernest Knox in 1912 and condemning the actions of the white supremacist mobs which forced out nearly the entire black population of Forsyth County,” Bourdeaux said on the House floor on Wednesday. “It's particularly important during Black History Month that we acknowledge horrific incidents such as this and honor the memory of the victims of those tragedies.”

In September 1912, Edwards was beaten and killed in his jail cell by a mob of at least 2,000 white residents after being arrested the day before in connection with the alleged rape and murder of Sleety Mae Crow, a white Forsyth County resident. After his death, Edwards’ body was dragged through downtown Cumming and hung from a telephone pole.

Along with a similar incident days before in which another white woman was allegedly attacked by two black men, the result was the county’s black population, with an estimated 1,100 residents in 1910, according to Census records, being forced out of the county. 

Knox and Daniel, who were arrested at the same time as Edwards, were found guilty of the crime and executed by hanging.

On Wednesday, Bourdeaux recounted the historical events, calling them “an appalling racial cleansing.”

“Following this, white men on horseback dubbed night-riders rode throughout Forsyth terrorizing families and burning black churches, homes and businesses, ultimately driving out over 1,100 Black residents,” she said. “Forsyth County continued to have little to no black residents for almost a century.”

A copy of the resolution also includes the history of the events, including that at least 58 Black landowners lost their property with compensation or were forced to sell, that Knox was coerced into confessing the crime and implicating others and that Knox and Daniel were denied “due process, convicted in a one-day trial and publicly hanged shortly thereafter”

The resolution also expresses support for a national day of remembrance of forced migrations of Black Americans. 

The lynchings and racial violence of 1912 have received renewed interest in recent years. 

In a news release, Bourdeaux’s office said she worked with Patrick Phillips, a former Forsyth County resident and Stanford University professor who wrote “Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America,” a nonfiction work on the 1912 racial violence. 

In January 2020, members of the Community Remembrance Project of Forsyth County, the Historical Society of Forsyth County and the Equal Justice Initiative came together to remember Edwards and collect two jars of soil with his name and date of death – one that will stay in Forsyth and one that will go to EJI’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama – from outside the Forsyth County Administration Building, near the site where Edwards’ body was hanged.

Later that year, Forsyth County Schools announced the name of its newest elementary school, New Hope, in honor of a former school for Black students in the county, which had over 40 students and was on land donated by Thomas Roper, one of the largest Black landowners in Forsyth around 1910.

In 2021, the CRPFC unveiled a historical marker in downtown Cumming documenting the events of the 1912 lynching of Edwards

Earlier this month, a group of local church leaders launched the Forsyth Descendants Scholarship, a four-year, $10,000 scholarship for those who believe they may be a direct descendant of one of the families forced to flee the county after 1912.

The events are also expected to be part of “Oscarville: Below the Surface,” a TV series following the fictional Harris family in the former Oscarville community in east Forsyth, which now sits below Lake Lanier.