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Forsyth County, Georgia

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Please add profiles of those who were born, lived or died in Forsyth County, Georgia.

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For thousands of years, varying indigenous cultures lived in this area along the Etowah River. Starting near the end of the first millennium, Mound Builders of the Mississippian culture settled in this area; they built earthwork mound structures at nearby Etowah in present-day Bartow County, and large communities along the Etowah River in neighboring Cherokee County. They disappeared about 1500.

Members of the Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee Nation migrated into the area from the North, possibly from the Great Lakes area. They settled in the territory that would become Forsyth County and throughout upper Georgia and Alabama, also having settlements or towns in present-day Tennessee and western North Carolina.

After the discovery of gold by European Americans in the surrounding area in 1829, numerous settlers moved into the area. They increased the pressure on the state and federal government to have the Cherokee and other Native Americans removed to west of the Mississippi River, in order to extinguish their land claims and make land available for purchase. The Cherokee were forced to relocate during what was called the Trail of Tears.

Forsyth County was named after John Forsyth, Governor of Georgia from 1827–1829 and Secretary of State under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. For many years, much of this hill country was farmed by yeomen farmers, who owned few or no slaves.

After two different incidents in September 1912, in which black men were alleged to have raped white women, tensions rose in the county. In the first case, a black preacher was assaulted by whites for suggesting that the alleged victim may have been having a consensual relationship with a black man. The Sheriff gained support from the governor, who sent more than 20 National Guard troops to keep peace. The suspects in the first case were never tried, for lack of evidence.

In the second case, five suspects were arrested and held in the Cumming jail. A lynch mob of 4,000 whites stormed the Cumming county jail and dragged out one of the men, Rob Edwards. They shot Edwards and hanged his body on the town square. The woman who was raped, Mae Crow, died two weeks after being attacked. Charges against two of the four suspects held in the second case were dropped after a plea bargain. But two black youths under the age of 18 were quickly convicted by all-white juries and executed by hanging. Whites afterward harassed and intimidated blacks in Forsyth and neighboring counties. Within weeks, they forced most of the blacks to leave the region in fear of their lives, losing land and personal property that was never recovered.

Almost every single one of Forsyth's 1,098 blacks — prosperous and poor, literate and unlettered — was driven out of the county. It took only a few weeks. Marauding residents wielded guns, sticks of dynamite, bottles of kerosene. Then they stole everything, from farmland to tombstones. Forsyth County remained white right through the 20th century. A black man or woman couldn't so much as drive through without being run out.... During the 1950s and '60s, there were no "colored" water fountains in the courthouse or "whites only" diners in the county seat, Cumming; there was no black population to segregate.

During the 1950s, with the introduction of the poultry industry, the county had steady economic growth but remained largely rural and all white in population. Georgia State Route 400 opened in 1971 and was eventually extended through the county and northward; it stimulated population growth as residential housing was developed in the county and it became a bedroom community for people working in Atlanta, which had expanding work opportunities. The opening of Georgia State Route 400 also spurred industrial growth in the South West portion of the county along the McFarland Parkway coridor starting in the early 1970s.

By 1980, the county population was 27,500, growing to 40,000 in 1987. While some blacks worked in the county in new industries, none lived there. The county gained more than 30 new industries from 1980 and unemployment was low. Such growth resulted in the median income, formerly low, "rising faster than in any other county in Georgia." A small civil rights march by blacks in the county seat of Cumming in January 1987 was attacked by people throwing rocks, dirt and bottles. A week later another, much larger march took place, with civil rights activists going from Atlanta to Cumming protected by police and the National Guard. Thousands of protesters joined a counter-demonstration. Local people said conditions had been improving for minorities, but whites appeared to be reacting to the march out of fear.

White Forsyth resident Charles A. Blackburn wanted to have a brotherhood march to celebrate the first annual celebration of national holiday Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He wanted to dispel the racist image of Forsyth County, where he owned and operated a private school, the Blackburn Learning Center. Blackburn cancelled his plans after he received threatening phone calls. Other whites in nearby counties, as well as State Representative Billy McKinney of Atlanta and Hosea Williams, who was on the Atlanta City Council, took up the march plans instead.

The following week, January 24, approximately 20,000 participants marched in Cumming. This occurrence produced no violence, despite the presence of more than 5,000 counter-demonstrators, summoned by the Forsyth County Defense League. The county and state had mustered about 2,000 peace officers and national guardsmen. Forsyth County paid $670,000 for police overtime during the political demonstration. Many residents were outraged to have to pay for the march, as most participants were from outside the county. (V. S. Naipaul's interview with Forsyth County Sheriff Wesley Walraven, before the second march, is referred to in his book A Turn in the South.)

The demonstration is thought to have been the largest civil rights demonstration in the U.S. since about 1970. The unexpected turnout of some 5,000 counter-demonstrators, 66 of whom were arrested for "parading without a permit," turned out to be the largest resistance opposed to civil rights since the 1960s. The counter-demonstration was called by the Forsyth County Defense League and the Nationalist Movement, newly organized in Cumming by local plumber Mark Watts.

Marchers came for the second march from all over the country, forming a caravan from Atlanta; National Guard troops were assigned for protection on freeway overpasses along the route. When marchers, including John Lewis, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Coretta Scott King, Joseph Lowery, Sam Nunn, Benjamin Hooks, Gary Hart and Wyche Fowler arrived, they discovered that most of the Cumming residents had left town for the day. Some had boarded up their windows because they feared violence. Marchers wound slowly through streets lined by hundreds of armed National Guardsmen, many of them black. Forsyth County subsequently charged large fees for parade permits until the practice was overturned in Forsyth County, Georgia v. The Nationalist Movement in the Supreme Court of the United States on June 19, 1992.

Forsyth County continued to be developed for subdivisions, industry and related businesses. By 2008 it had been ranked for several years among the top ten fastest-growing counties of the United States. Many new subdivisions have been constructed with several top-quality golf courses. The county's proximity to Atlanta and the Blue Ridge mountains, and bordering 37,000-acre Lake Sidney Lanier, has attracted many new residents. More than 60% of the current population either lived elsewhere in 1987 or had not yet been born.

The growth has put a strain on water supplies, especially during area droughts in the 21st century. Suburban growth has greatly increased water consumption in the area to maintain lawns and gardens, and supply new households. The region had severe droughts in 2007-2008 that threatened downriver water supplies in Alabama and Florida, in addition to Atlanta, in 2013 and in 2016. Bans on outdoor use of water were put in place, and the area has encouraged conversion of toilets and appliances to those that use less water. A severe drought in southern Forsyth County was declared by the end of June 2016. Several county organizations work to plan growth that can sustain the high quality of life in the area.

Adjacent Counties

Cities & Communities

  • Big Creek
  • Coal Mountain
  • Chestatee
  • Cumming (County Seat)
  • Daves Creek
  • Drew
  • Ducktown
  • Heardville
  • Hightower



NPR story (2016)

Genealogy Trails

Chattahoochee River Nat'l Rec. Area

Cumming Bandstand

Poole's Mill Covered Bridge

11alive story (2020)