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Recovering the Memory of a Black Church Destroyed During the ‘Red Summer’


A century ago, a white lynch mob set fire to an African-American church on this land just north of Millen, Ga., sending hundreds of black parents and their children scrambling out of windows in a frantic effort to escape. The mob, which was out to avenge the killing of two white law enforcement officers, would lynch at least three black males, including a 13-year-old, and leave the Carswell Grove Baptist Church in an ashy heap.

It is a little-known piece of history in a community where Southern politeness can mask racial strife. But on the centennial anniversary of the attack in 1919, efforts to acknowledge what happened have created unlikely allies.

Among those who gathered last year in advance of the anniversary to commemorate the church burning and lynchings were black residents whose ancestors were victims of the violence, and members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization for those whose ancestors fought in the Confederate army.

The attack in Millen was among the first in a series of clashes across the country in one of the bloodiest — yet largely forgotten — seasons of racial violence in American history. From Elaine, Ark., to Chicago to Washington, hundreds of black people died in more than two dozen separate incidents during what is now known as the Red Summer.

Beyond the lynchings, that violent summer became notable for another tactic that white mobs used to strike at the heart of African-American communities: attacking black churches just as they were emerging as the center of black life in America.

Carswell Grove was one of more than a dozen churches burned in three Georgia counties that summer, according to various media accounts.


Read entire article at NY Times