(Forsyth County, GA) Over $150,000 in scholarship funds was awarded to 11 descendants of the black Forsyth County residents forced to leave the county over 110 years ago.
In 1912, a black man was lynched and the over 1,000 black residents of Forsyth County were forced to leave everything behind and flee for their lives after a white woman was raped and murdered. Two other black men were tried and hanged for the crime. The county remained almost 100 percent white until the 1980s.
In 2022, several churches in the county joined together to honor the descendants of the black residents who lost everything in 1912 by setting up The Forsyth Descendants Scholarship.
This year’s scholarship was awarded to 11 of these descendants, six of whom are renewals from last year and five new recipients. The students were honored at a ceremony at Browns Bridge Church on July 29, which included a panel of other descendants of black Forsyth County residents, a participant of one of the Brotherhood marches in 1987 and a representative from the Atlanta History Center.
One of the new recipients, Erin Hall from Dekalb County, also spoke at the ceremony detailing the history of her family in the county.
Erin’s great-great-grandfather, Luther Martin, was a teenager living with his aunt and uncle, Alonzo and Florence McMicken, in Forsyth County near the Cherokee County line when the 1912 incident happened. It is unknown why he was not living with his immediate family. Luther’s grandparents, Eli and Amanda McMicken, are recorded to have lived in the county before 1900.
After the expulsion, Luther settled alone in Marietta and made a living doing farm work on rented land and as a landscaper. He also worked for Lockheed Martin at one point. He later married Sallie Bates and had two sons, Luke and Floyd. Luther passed away on May 7, 1979.
Erin and her mother, Angela, gave more details to Newsbreak in a separate interview. Angela explained that a surprising discovery during the research was that Luther had been arrested for allegedly attempting to murder a white man. He spent several years in jail before ending up in the same jail as the man he was accused of trying to murder. Ironically, it appears the white man who was the reason Luther was in jail was instrumental in proving his innocence and eventual release.
“I’m telling you, he had some favor over his life in a special way and maybe it was just his purpose in life because he did help a lot of people, he was very highly respected, he would give you the shirt off his back if you were in trouble,” Angela said.
According to Erin’s grandmother, Helen Kennesbrew, Luther read the entire Bible several times and, despite having a third-grad level education, could explain Biblical terms and verses better than most people with more education.
Helen also remembers the look Luther would get whenever Forsyth County was brought up.
“He was still scarred by it, she [Helen] could see the sadness that would come over his face when he would mention certain things about that expulsion,” Angela said. “…it was traumatic and scarring for him for sure, especially for him to just continue passing down ‘don’t go to Forsyth County, ever.’”
Luther purposely never owned his own property throughout his life, afraid that it would illegally be taken from him the way black property owners in Forsyth County lost their property basically overnight.
Luther’s two sons, Luke and Floyd, went on to join the military and later worked at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Helen Kennebrew was the first of her siblings to graduate high school and became the first black employee (and one of the first women) to work at the Marietta Post Office. Angela Hall is a first-generation college student and college graduate on her grandmother’s side of the family.
Over 110 years after the 1912 incident, Luther’s great-great-grandaughter is currently a sophomore at the University of Georgia with plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree with a major in marketing and a minor in design and media.
“As I journey through life, I will hold tight to values planted into our lives by Luther Martin: to be hardworking, to pursue education, to be people of integrity, and to have a strong reverence for God,” Erin said at the ceremony. “Additionally, I will continue sharing our family’s oral history and values with the expectation that future generations will know more about our family history, have more opportunities than me, and achieve more than I can begin to imagine.”
The other new recipients of the scholarship fund are Courtney Grogan, Donovan Holdip, Malik Peters and Reagan Kempson.
For more information on the Forsyth Descendents Scholarship Fund, visit forsythscholarship.org.
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at @justalookenott.