At least 200 Black towns and communities had been formed across the United States by 1888. According to a Washington Post story, several of these towns were modeled after Black communities founded during the American Revolution and during the antebellum period, which lasted from the late 1700s until 1860.
Some settlements vanished completely as time passed. Amber Ruffin, a television host on NBC’s Peacock streaming channel, recently introduced her viewers to “The Secret History of Flooding Black Towns to Make Lakes.”
“Dozens of Black villages have been obliterated from the American map, not by burning them down, but by burying them underwater,” Ruffin said in a piece called “How Did We Get Here?” on “The Amber Ruffin Show.”
She went on to discuss the history of certain successful Black American cities that were eventually destroyed by lakes or natural parks. Drowned Towns are what they’re called, and here are four of them:
Before Lake Lanier, a recreational hotspot famed for boating and water sports, it was a predominantly Black town in Forsyth County, Georgia. In 1912, a White mob set fire to the Black community after three Black men were accused of rape.
Rob Edwards, Earnest Knox, and Oscar Daniel were arrested in September 1912 after being accused of raping and killing a young White woman named Mae Crow. Edwards was then hauled out of jail and lynched by a mob.
Daniel and Knox, on the other hand, went to trial and were found guilty. The adolescent was sentenced to die by hanging. Soon after, a white mob attacked Black families in Oscarville, setting fire to their homes, schools, and churches. In the end, around 1,000 African-Americans abandoned the area out of terror.
Lake Lanier, named for Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier, was built on top of what had been set on fire after the Black families were pushed out of their houses.
Vanport was a temporary housing project built in 110 days in 1942 in response to Portland’s wartime housing crisis. Vanport, also known as Vanport City or Kaiserville, had a population of 40,000 people, with around 40% of them being African-American. Shopping malls, a hospital, a movie theater, recreation facilities, schools, and nurseries could all be found in Vanport.
It was the second-largest city in Oregon at the time, and it was home to the shipyard employees and their families. “However, as America returned to peace and the shipyards closed, tens of thousands remained in the shabby houses and flats in Vanport, and many of those who stayed were African-American by design, due to discriminatory housing policy,” Smithsonian Magazine reports.
Vanport was flooded on May 30, 1948, and was completely destroyed. The town was swept away in a single day by the flood. Around 15 people were killed, and around 17,000 people were displaced. Delta Park is currently located in Vanport.
Will Benson launched the company in 1895. Benson, a predominantly Black village, was flooded in 1926 when the Tallapoosa River’s Martin Dam was constructed, becoming Lake Martin.
It was a modest farming village with a bank, sawmill, gristmill, post office, and even its own gold mine. Susannah was one of the first communities in Tallapoosa county, located on Blue Creek between what is now Curry’s Point and Stillwaters. Regrettably, it would also be flooded by Lake Martin’s waters.
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