New Book Recounts Georgia County’s Brutal Racial Violence

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Georgia's whitest (and richest) county didn't get that way by accident. Long before the polo fields were established, Forsyth County whites conducted a brutal (and completely successful) program of ethnic cleansing.

A new novel by an award-winning writer and editor focuses attention on one of the most horrific acts of racism in U.S. history and its repercussions “unto the third and fourth generation.”

Brambleman tells the story of down-and-out Atlanta writer Charlie Sherman, who is convinced by a mysterious stranger to finish a dead professor’s book about a crime that’s gone unpunished for decades. What Charlie works on is an unwieldy manuscript about the mob-driven expulsion of more than 1,000 blacks from Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912. However, Charlie also uncovers a terrible secret involving a Forsyth County land grab. Due to its proximity to Atlanta, the stolen farm is now worth $20 million—and a sale is pending. When he finds the land’s rightful owner, Charlie becomes convinced he’s been chosen by a Higher Power to mete out justice and wreak vengeance on those who profit from evil. That’s when things go horribly wrong.

Author Jonathan Grant says the story will probably be controversial. “Many people don’t want to be reminded about Forsyth County’s past—especially because, to many people, that past has become the county’s defining characteristic—what made it what it is today.”

“The way I tell the story will ruffle even more feathers,” Grant admits. “Brambleman isn’t a dry, documentary treatment of historical events. It’s definitely not preachy. It’s wildly funny, with a heavy supernatural twist and a protagonist who often resorts to very non-heroic tactics and, along the way, doubts his sanity, motives, and who he’s actually working for.”

The novel is an outgrowth of Grant’s work on his late father Donald L. Grant’s magnum opus, The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia (University of Georgia Press), named Georgia’s “Book of the Year” when it was published. “The last narrative my father wrote was on Hosea Williams’s two Forsyth County marches in 1987,” Grant says. “While I worked on the book, I became painfully aware that Forsyth County never received its proper due from historians. I wanted to give it the attention it deserved. Two decades later, Brambleman is here.”

Author Bio: Jonathan Grant grew up on a Missouri farm and graduated from the University of Georgia. The former journalist and state government spokesman lives in Atlanta with his wife and two children. He is the author of the novel Chain Gang Elementary and co-author/editor of The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia.

Historical Background: Forsyth County, famous as the birthplace of Hee-Haw’s Junior Samples, has for most of the past century, existed as an intentionally all-white community bordering the black Mecca of Atlanta since 1912, following one of the 20th century’s most violent racist outrages—including lynching, nightriding, and arson.

In 1987, the sleepy community gained notoriety when a small march led by civil rights firebrand Hosea Williams was broken up by rock- and bottle-throwing Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and their sympathizers. Bloody but unbowed, Williams returned the next week with 25,000 followers in one of largest civil rights marches in history.

There was talk of reparations. Oprah came. Protests and counter-protests yielded a landmark Supreme Court case on free speech. But most importantly, white people flocked to Forsyth. It became the fastest- growing county in the nation, the richest one in Georgia, and one of the twenty wealthiest in the U.S.

Brambleman
A novel by Jonathan Grant
Thornbriar Press, Atlanta
ISBN 978-0-9834921-2-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9834921-3-9 (ebook)
Suggested retail: $18.95 (paperback), $8.99 (ebook)

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Jonathan Grant

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