This Saturday there’s a Nazi Rally coming to Newnan, right down the street from where we live. To better understand how this could happen in our own back yard, I started doing some research about the heritage and culture of this place and wanted to share some of those findings with you. When you hear these people in the coming days tell you that they’re celebrating their “heritage” I want us all to best understand what that means.
In 1899 a man named Sam Hose (some report it as Holt) moved about 5 miles down the street from here to a place in northern Coweta County. He moved down here because his mom was aging and he had a developmentally disabled brother and this is where he could find a job. He finally found one on Alan Cranford’s plantation.
At some point during his time there, Hose and Cranford had a disagreement about pay. Cranford drew a gun on Hose, and Hose unfortunately threw his wood-chopping axe at him, killing Cranford on the spot. The Atlanta Constitution got wind of this and suggested (almost with glee) that Hose be burned alive:
“There have been whisperings of burning at the stake and of torturing the fellow low, and so great is the excitement, and so high the indignation, that this is among the possibilities.”
On April 23rd, 1899, Hose was arrested and jailed, but while he was sitting in jail the people of Palmetto and Newnan grew tired of waiting for justice. So over 2,000 people marched on the jail, and took him. Here’s what the Atlanta Constitution said they did to him, right on Route 29, the road we use to get to the highway on our way to work:
“First he was made to remove his clothing, and when the flames began to eat into his body it was almost nude. Before the fire was lighted his left ear was severed from his body. Then his right ear was cut away. During this proceeding he uttered not a groan. Other portions of his body were mutilated by the knives of those who gathered about him, but he was not wounded to such an extent that he was not fully conscious and could feel the excruciating pain. Oil was poured over the wood that was placed about him and this was ignited.
The scene that followed is one that never will be forgotten by those who saw it, and while Sam Hose writhed and performed contortions in his agony, many of those present turned away from the sickening sight, and others could hardly look at it. Not a sound but the crackling of the flames broke the stillness of the place, and the situation grew more sickening as it proceeded.”
And then further:
“One of the most sickening sights of the day was the eagerness with which the people grabbed after souvenirs, and they almost fought over the ashes of the dead criminal. Large pieces of his flesh were carried away, and persons were seen walking through the streets carrying bones in their hands.”
The mob went on to find his minister, Elijah Strickland, and cut off his ears and fingers, then hanged him from a tree, again, on Route 29. They left a note on his chest:
“Beware all darkies. You will be treated the same way.”
W.E.B. DeBois reportedly came down for an interview with the Constitution that day, and wrote that he’d seen Hose’s knuckles for sale in a local grocery store.
What strikes me as truly sickening was the reported participation of people. At the time the population of Newnan was 3,654. The number of participants in this gruesome killing was “well over 2,000” according to some reports.
You may run into some neighbors who say “their family has lived here for generations” and note that they also speak highly of the heritage and history of this place. They say that their words and celebration of this place is about “heritage, not hate.”
Consider that 1899 may seem far off, but some people living today had grandparents or great grandparents that were children then. We are, on average, but one living generation from that moment, when a majority of this community savagely cut a man into pieces, burned him alive, and sold his remains as souvenirs. That’s part of the heritage of this place.
While the time of lynching has recently faded, the tradition of white supremacy in our neighborhoods is alive and well. If you think that racism is an artifact of a bygone era, here’s a refresher of what’s gone on in the surrounding 30 miles of this place over the past 5 years:
- Three days ago, on April 7th, in the the neighboring town of Griffin, former city Comissioner Larry Johnson who is white, referred to part of his city as “N-word town.” After no other commissioner or member of the public said anything, Commissioner McCord, who is black, said “I’m not going to sit here and.. maybe y’all are comfortable with this — I don’t know. I’m not going to sit here and let this man use that type of language, and if nobody else is offended, then I am.” Commission Chair Doug Hollberg instructed McCord to stay silent and let Johnson finish his point.
- While this is a personal story I cannot provide any references to (and you should treat as heresay) a member of my city council bragged to me on city election night in 2017 that his daughter dressed as “girl hitler” for halloween, complete with a Zyklon B gas canister that the family had purchased off of eBay.
- In 2016, Less than a month after Dylan Roof massacred nine people in a church, Jose Torres and Kayla Rae Norton felt bold enough to lead four large pickup trucks draped with confederate flags to the birthday party of an 8 year old african american girl in neighboring Douglas county. They drove past her party with Confederate Flags screaming threats of violence and racial epithets, and threatened the party-goers (who were mostly children) with a shotgun. Photos below.
They were arrested and the KKK planned a rally in Douglasville to protest their sentencing. More than 2,500 people signed a Change.org petition asking that their sentencing be overturned. International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Neo-Confederate League of the South, said of the judge, “You want real justice, find out where he lays his head, find out where his family sleeps at night and go take the things he loves from him.”
- In 2016 in Douglas County the KKK left recruitment flyers throughout the area
- In 2015, an east Coweta High School student dressed in KKK garb and went to school. The community responded to him essentially by saying it was a “kid acting like a teenager”
- In 2013, a police chief in neighboring Coweta county resigned for making jokes that one of his officers was probably “beating the s#*t out of some N-”
If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk. If white supremacists see that your community stays mostly silent on things like this, they’ll use it as an excuse to throw a party in your streets. What fuels them is our silence, not at them on the day that they rally (that fuels them) but on the day to day actions of this community by tolerating their message under the disguise of “cultural heritage.”
If there were ever a need for NIMBY’s now is the time. I don’t think we get to show up in Newnan on Saturday and say “we showed up for the counter-protest,” pat ourselves on the back and go home. This is a larger thing, and a much larger responsibility. And that responsibility is largely ours.
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Give him somebody to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” — President Lyndon B. Johnson
Before we go much further, I want to give you a better sense of the place you live in. The racist history of our region isn’t just about lynching and name-calling. It’s about poverty, and access to opportunity too. Poverty and racism are linked. So let’s take a look at some data.
According to the Brookings Institute, the Atlanta Metro Area leads the nation in income inequality. And southern Fulton county, where we live, contains some of the highest levels of poverty in our city. Here’s a map to explore median household income for our county. But let’s have some context
In this map I’ve highlighted where some of these racist happenings are, well happening. I’ve also overlayed the 2017 Census Bureau Median Household Income data. The lighter the color, the lower the median household income is for a particular census tract.
From this we can see there tends to be a high correlation between poverty and white supremacy. The areas I’ve highlighted here have high concentrations of poor whites. And if you know the Atlanta metro area at all, you can also see that line in Atlanta that separates poor blacks from their rich white neighbors up in the center-top-right. We’ll get more to that later. But for now if there’s anything that history teaches us, it’s poverty and a lack of opportunity that gives folks a special reason to look for someone to blame for it all.
If you look at our census tract, you’ll see that the median household income is just over $50,000, but homes in our specific neighborhood are completely unaffordable for someone of that income. Where we live, in our neighborhood, people spend more on weddings than most people make in a year. It stands to reason that if you discounted the few hundred of us from the census survey, you’d see extreme poverty here amongst our neighbors.
And that’s what makes this problem of nazis marching in the streets something that is uniquely our problem to solve. The people we are waiting to fix it are us. The reason this keeps happening is because you and I haven’t left our bubble of comfort, had the difficult conversations with ourselves and our neighbors about our own actions and our own blissful ignorance of our neighbors, both black and white, living in poverty. Black people in this region are kept poor through the overt racism of poor whites and the wealthy’s ability to insulate themselves from the poor and ignore the problem to maintain their innocence.
My intent is not to call anybody a racist or make you feel bad. Instead it’s to introduce you to an opportunity. We have an opportunity to do something amazing, together. I’m not quite ready to start posting what I think are solutions (I’ve got a lot more data and history to talk about), but there is such opportunity here to serve as a leading model for the nation.
Things didn’t just get this way by circumstance. It wasn’t just a roll of the dice that condensed poor blacks by the airport, sent wealthy whites to the north, and left poor whites behind. They got this way with intent. Where, after all, did all this poverty come from? Why is it geographically where it is?
”Detrimental Area… Considerable distance to schools… Infiltration of Jewish Families… Trending desirability Next 10–15 Years: slowly downward…. Property if acquired should be sold rather than held.” — Federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, on the neighborhood of Druid Hills Atlanta, 1938.
In 1933, an economist at the University of Chicago, Homer Hoyt, published a list of racial groups ranking them from positive to negative influence on property values. Here’s the list:
1. English, Scotch, Irish, Scandanavians
2. North Italians
3. Bohemians or Czechs
7. Russians, Jews (lower class)
8. South Italians
Hoyt went on to be hired by the Federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), the predecessor of the FHA, to create new underwriting criteria for federal loans for housing. Thus began the process of redlining in Atlanta. HOLC went from neighborhood to neighborhood assessing whether loans should be given in it, whether the neighborhood was on the rise or trending downward, and whether or not investments should be made in communities. The strongest factor in whether or not a neighborhood was not worth investing in: the mere presence of black people.
Thanks to the power of technology, you can now explore an interactive map of these redlined districts in the Atlanta area.
Now you may think that this is old news from a long time ago, but that’s the thing about mortgages: they last a long time. When people talk about “institutionalized racism,” this is what they mean.
The American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers took on this style of real estate appraising. Their handbook warned appraisers of the “infiltration of inharmonious racial groups,” up through 1975. The National Association of Realtors also had an ethics code forbidding realtors from selling homes in white areas to black buyers.
The result? You have neighborhoods that nobody will invest in, and nobody will let you move out of! Talk about trapped! Take a look at the red-lined areas from 1930 (the drawn boxes on top), and the areas with the highest african-american population in 1967 (the dark squares underneath), nearly 40 years later.
The next time you think “Slavery is over. Why can’t people just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and live the American Dream like everybody else,” think about this. Racism wasn’t solved by Dr. King or Barack Obama.
This isn’t some other generation’s issue, it’s ours. In 1988, in the Atlanta area, the AJC reported that “whites receive five times as many home loans as blacks.” Michael Lomax (who is black, and currently the chair of the UNCF), who served for 12 years as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Fulton County up through 1988, whilst running for mayor received campaign contributions from nearly every bank in the city of Atlanta, could not get a loan for his home in Adams Park. This was the late 80s and early 90s, and it wasn’t just limited to mortgages.
The primary method of accumulating wealth isn’t earning a salary, it’s using financial leverage. It’s earning a salary, making smart investments with that money, and using other people’s money to make you money. White people were afforded this ability by banks by allowing them to take out mortgages, and get loans to start new businesses or expand existing ones. Black people just weren’t.
Wealth, either in cash or in property values, was not allowed to accumulate in black communities well into the 1990s in this region. And you know what’s troublesome about that? How are schools funded?
Property taxes, based on the value of your home.
Education is an important driving factor of income inequality, wealth, and white supremacy. It’s the white lock on education that’s really kept whites supreme here. You cannot talk about education in this area without talking about racism, they are, and have always been married.
If you take a look again at our redlined map, you can see that the city was divided essentially granting the African American community to live to the south and west of the city, and the whites to live towards the north and east. Let’s take a look at the most recent (2017/18) 3rd grade reading test scores from the blue lined and red-lined districts from 1933.
These are Iowa Test of Basic Skills numbers, that are normed, nationally, to 50. The reading scores for third graders at elementary schools on the south side of the Fulton County Schools district are as follows:
1. Palmetto Elementary: 29
2. Campbell: 23
3. Renaissance: 32
4. Liberty Point: 31
5. Cliftondale: 32
Each of these schools, today, have predominantly African American or latinx populations. On average, more than 85% of the children in these schools qualify for free and reduced lunch programs. This list is not conclusive but they’re all mostly the same. They’re all failing at teaching 3rd graders to read.
“That’s not racism! Public schools are terrible,” you might say. But let’s take a look at the north side:
- Medlock Bridge ES: 65
- Wilson Creek ES: 72
- Shakerag: 74
- Abbots Hill: 81
- Dolvin: 76
Each of these schools have predominantly white populations. None of them have a free and reduced lunch percentage of greater than 12%. That’s not the entire list of schools up there, but every single one of them is similar.
We built an education system that reinforces and expands income inequality with structural racism at the core. Poor education, produces poor outcomes, produces poor wages, which produces fewer opportunities which produces families that have even fewer opportunities than they had access to. More inequality equals more racism, more crime, more violence, more meth labs, and more burden on the state. So, it stands to reason, unless we do something about our schools, the problem of income inequality will get worse.
These are not tales from long ago. This is not a lynching from a century ago, or the sins of slavery. Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee did not do this, our parents and grandparents did. For most of us, this happened when we were adults, or in high school or elementary school. The system that extracted wealth from black communities didn’t just take that wealth and set it on fire. It invested that wealth in white communities. While black communities couldn’t get a loan, my parents took out a second mortgage on their home to pay for my private high school and college education. And so did many of yours. And if they died, that passed on that wealth to us. But they left us this, too.
This is our inheritance. It’s not our fault, but it is our inheritance. You can ignore it, and pass it along to your children. You can pretend it doesn’t exist. You can wait for some mythical person to come along and fix the problems in your back yard. Or you can acknowledge the heritage, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.
If you want to stop Nazis from protesting in your streets, we have to stop ignoring our inheritance.
The Nazis are coming because they’ve been here all along, and feel emboldened by our silence. Some, sure, are coming from other places to come here, but many have been here all along. They’ve been coming out for years and testing to see if they could get a response out of us and we’ve just been more worried about getting too much damn kholrabi in the CSA (seriously I haven’t gotten any this year and it’s still too much). They are coming because poor whites are looking for someone to blame and poor blacks are and have always been the target, and we’ve built a bubble for ourselves to insulate ourselves from it all. We’ve ignored what got us here, and continued to segregate our schools because we “just have to do what’s right for our children, you know?”
What makes this so uncomfortable is that white supremacy is powered and enabled by our comfort. Yours and mine. Not somebody elses. You. It’s us. We are the ones we’ve been waiting on to fix this, but it’s just so much easier to be comfortable with the way things are. Reflecting on our history, the racism baked into our heritage, and the inheritance we are leaving for our children, is difficult. It’s even more difficult when you live in such a phenomenal place with phenomenal people. It is even more difficult when these conversations cause discomfort in others who can cause us such great joy.
So, if you have read all this, and believe that I’m not making all this up, and it upsets you, then what do we do about it? It all seems so big and insurmountable.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, too. At bedtime, I’ve been reading this great book to my children lately called “What do you do with a problem?” I think it fits:
“I don’t know how it happened,
but one day I had a problem.
I didn’t want it. I didn’t ask for it.
I really didn’t like having a problem,
but it was there.”
“I wanted to make it go away.
I shooed it. I scowled at it. I tried ignoring it.
But nothing worked!”
“I started to worry about my problem.
What if it swallows me up?
What if my problem sneaks up and gets me?
What if it takes away all my things?”
“And the more I worried, the bigger my problem became.
I wished it would just disappear. I tried everything
I could to hide from it. I even found ways to disguise
myself. But it still found me.”
“And the more I avoided my problem,
the more I saw it everywhere.
I thought about it all the time.
I didn’t feel good at all.”
“I realized that I had to face it.
So even though I didn’t want to, even thought I was
really afraid, I got ready and I tackled my problem.”
“When I got face to face with it, I discovered something.
My problem wasn’t what I thought it was.
I discovered something beautiful inside.”
“My problem held an opportunity!
It was an opportunity for me to learn and to grow.
To be brave. To do something.”
We can treat this like a problem, and if we do, then it becomes an albatross. We can try and try to defend ourselves and prove to the world that we’re not racist, because oh-my-god-please-don’t-call-me-racist.
Our heritage is what went into us. Just like our genes, we don’t get to pick and choose which parts are infused into us, all of it is. The heritage of this place includes a place that cut a man into pieces, set him on fire, and sold his remains as party favors. This is a place that systemically denied blacks access to wealth and financial leverage for our benefit. That may not be the heritage you want to celebrate, but it is our inheritance.
Our heritage can be a source of shame or willful ignorance and we can leave it at that: a burden that those of us who have done our homework or care to think about it carry, and that’s kind of the end of it. We can want to make it go away. We can shoo it, and scowl at it and try ignoring it, but that doesn’t work. In fact it’s making things worse.
Or we can face it. We can embrace the problem, look inside of it and find the beautiful opportunity.
We have such an opportunity here to make an amazing difference in our community. And we can be a model for an amazing shift around the country. I know. It’s hard to believe, but you guys, it’s us! And the biggest opportunity we have of all isn’t just making a difference in the world, it’s to model, for our children, that complacency is not an answer. That we value a better world more than we value politeness, that we value justice more than we value “southern hospitality” and we value their future more than we value our heritage.
We need to get out from behind our glowing rectangles and have a conversation.
Author’s Note: I originally shared this to my predominantly white and predominantly wealthy neighbors on a neighborhood listserve. I never intended to make this public, and as such, it may contain glaring errors. So many of them have asked if I could republish this in a place where they could share it that I’ve posted it here, on the Internet.
There was a bit more to this piece, but mostly logistical information about next steps: a series of conversations in our community about fighting poverty, taking responsibility for and fighting structural racism around where we live.