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By J. Tebias Perry
Photos: History.com, Lyndsey Medford, PBS.com, Wikiwand
These are my personal observations, research, and experiences.
The very foundation of America stands on misrepresentations and down-right lies about American history, especially history associated with the plight of Blacks and acts of racism in America. One must ask, why? What are the skeletons hiding beneath the surface of American history? Why are the authors of American history not telling the truth? Such is the history of Lake Lanier.
Just a very short 42 miles north of Atlanta beneath a lake, lies the truth of a small village called Oscarville, Georgia. It was a thriving village that was predominantly Black-owned. Why is a village beneath a lake, you ask? Welp, 108 years ago, an incident changed the lives of 1,098 Black families forever.
There were two known events that occurred, which changed the history of Oscarville forever.
After the rape and beating of Mae Crow, an 18-year-old white woman, September 8, 1912, an angry mob was formed and began tormenting the Black residents of Forsyth County, Georgia. Some reports stated that the beating was so brutal that her eye was dislodged from her skull. After her death on September 23. the angry mob began burning Black-owned churches, houses, and businesses. The local papers said that she was beaten and died of her injuries. The two Black men who were accused of her death were on trial for a day and hung outside of the town. The media mentioned that over 5,000 spectators watched as their lifeless bodies hang swinging in the Georgia breeze. They also depicted these men as low brow gorilla-like Negroes.
It has also been noted that the grandniece of May Crow (Debbie Vermat) thought that her assailants were completely innocent based on her grandmother’s account of the incident.
Two weeks prior, Ellen Grice, another white woman, was allegedly raped by a Black man. An angry militia hung him without any due process, investigations, or a proper trial. This and many others have lost their lives far too many times for crimes that they never committed.
As the mob grew increasingly more violent, they ran off, chased down, and hunted 1,098 black residents from their homes, businesses, barns, and churches. In an attempt to keep the county segregated. Forsyth County continues to be recognized as one of the most racist places in the country, in my opinion.
After this “ethnic cleansing” was complete to the satisfaction of White locals, Lake Lanier, a man-made lake, was created. Lake Lanier was forced upon the land of those affluent self-sufficient blacks. The Buford Dam was also created and flooded in order to cover up the hidden horror of the county’s past. There seemed to be very little punishment for racial injustice, egregious to some but appalling to most, in Forsyth County. Wikipedia and other news sources made mention that Lake Lanier was flooded to ensure that Georgia was always replenished with a strong water source and to support hydroelectric power for the city of Atlanta. Even in 1956, people continued to lie about the facts of this “creative coverup”.
White residents even went to the extreme of raising the level of the lake high enough to cover the trees. Later they came around frequently during the process to cut off the tops of the trees. Some of the stumps from the trees are there even today.
As restless souls roam beneath the surface of a very popular landmark, I can’t help but wonder if their souls will ever truly rest. As unbelievable as this event may seem, there are still graves below of the once established town.
In 2007, a major drought revealed the motor speedway that was a famous structure in the village of Oscarville, Georgia. This is proof substantiating the stories of the famous speedway. Other reporters have called it “A haunted memory”; how ironic.
Even in 1987 as Forsyth County still remained segregated, Coretta Scott King, Hosea Williams, Dick Gregory, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and many others attempted to protest peacefully and were met by similar treatment of the town’s past. The Ku Klux Klan was present as well as 2,300 National Guard soldiers to keep the peace. 55 arrests were made including Ku Klux Klan leader David Dukes.” Ni**ers, go home!” and “white power” bellowed the Georgia air. Why should obtaining peace come at such a painful cost?
Some say the curse of Oscarville will never be lifted until the deaths that are buried beneath that lake can be vindicated. Far too many times we’ve seen the story play out like a bad movie ending with an even more grimacing sequel.
There is a doomed history that surrounds all atrocities associated with oppression and racism. Reference the old saying, “Every dog has his day….”
The city beneath the lake may be forgotten to some or even looked over, but the soil around it knows it’s truth. One day those businesses, churches, crops, and fruit trees that were once planted in the backyard of its native-locals will bare the true fruit of the original owners.