A Burgeoning Black Community
Cotton grew in many of Forsyth County's fields. This photo depicts two Black men picking cotton somewhere near Augusta in the late 1800s.
Courtesy of Hargrett Library, Robert E. Williams Photographic Collection.
The 1908 Georgia schools census shows us that Forsyth County had 316 "colored" children enrolled in school that year. The column with that total is the sixth from the left.
Courtesy of University of Georgia. Map and Government Information Library, Georgia Government Publications.
Local accounts hold that Cumming had a strong Black community whose kids attended school. One white subscriber to a local newspaper wrote a letter expressing his fear that they may become smart enough to pass the state's literacy tests for voting, which were intended to keep Black people from the polls.
Courtesy of Georgia Newspaper Project, Georgia Historic Newspapers.
On the eve of the racial cleansing in 1912, Forsyth County’s Black community included 1,098 Black residents, fifty-eight of whom were landowners. A total of 109 Black families paid the farm tax, which indicates that they either rented or owned their farms, unlike the county’s sharecroppers, who did not own or rent the land they plowed. Other Black residents worked in the county seat of Cumming, some as craftsmen and others as domestic laborers.
Several Black churches were anchors in the community. Pastors like Grant Smith and Levi Greenlee Jr. were both spiritual leaders and outspoken advocates for Black residents. They organized church picnics for their constituents and secured regular tithes even from members of the white community, according to surviving records from Greenlee’s church. By the end of the year, though, their churches were turned to ash, and their worshippers had become refugees.