Elon Obsy is a descendant of a refugee family. Like many refugees across the globe, Elon’s grandparents and her mother were forced to flee for their lives on a moment’s notice, leaving behind their thriving, 60-acre homestead and everything they owned. But unlike refugee families often pictured in the headlines, Elon’s family wasn’t fleeing across the borders of a foreign land.
They were survivors of the violent 1912 racial cleansing of Forsyth County, GA – a horrific event that began with the lynching of Robert Edwards, a local Black citizen, and the subsequent hangings of two Black teenagers. Shortly after, the Black community’s churches and homes were torched, and Black sharecroppers and landowners were terrorized by threatening white mobs of night riders on horseback who drove every Black resident out of the county – 1,098 to be exact, according to the 1910 U.S. census.
For years, many residents didn’t know much about this painful chapter of Forsyth County’s history, and even Black descendants like Elon were unaware of the whole story. “My elders didn’t talk about things they wanted to forget,” Elon says. “I was 30 years old before all the details came to light when my mom was contacted by a journalist who was researching these events.”
But today, Elon is proudly speaking up, along with a group of Forsyth County church leaders and generous givers who have mobilized through NCF Georgia. So moved by their county’s painful past, they decided to do something about it. As followers of Jesus, they have come together to create The Forsyth Descendants Scholarship, which seeks to honor those expelled from the county by providing college scholarships to some of their descendants.
“An act of love”
“When my wife and I learned the details of these tragic events in our own county, we both wept,” says Durwood Snead, a long-time resident of Forsyth County who co-founded the scholarship program. “And then we felt God nudging us and asking, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
As a former missions pastor, Durwood is acutely aware of geography, and “I felt like we needed to invite the Holy Spirit into this county.”
So Durwood began to reach out to other pastors, leaders in the Black community, and descendants of the exodus. After much brainstorming and prayer, the idea of a scholarship program for descendants was formulated in 2021.
To handle the logistics, Durwood contacted his friend, Boyd Bailey, and Maureen Starr of NCF Georgia. “NCF offered us a seamless, easy process to accept donations without having to establish our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit to begin,” Durwood says. “We were able to get set up overnight. And it’s even simpler for NCF givers, who can easily make transfers from their own Giving Fund to support this.”
Some have questioned the effort for bringing up old pain and hurt. Others have suggested that a scholarship is not enough to right the wrongs of the past. “This scholarship is simply an act of love,” Durwood says. “Is it enough? Of course not. But learning the stories, honoring these families, and encouraging some of their descendants can only make us better, more compassionate people.”
“We feel Jesus compels us to acknowledge this difficult history and to take action. We want Jesus to get all the credit,” he says.
Following the teachings of Jesus
Napoleon Foster, a member of the committee that selects scholarship recipients, offers further perspective. Napoleon is a Black business owner and a former Xerox executive who moved to Forsyth County 15 years ago. “It is impossible to reimburse or compensate the families who were displaced,” Napoleon says. “But based on the teachings of Jesus, when we see injustice, we need to get involved and do something.”
“This is a good example to set before nonbelievers and believers throughout our community. Generational wealth helps families. And my prayer is that these Black scholars will be able to use this opportunity to go as far as they can and propel their families into a future of hope.”
In 2022, The Forsyth Descendants Scholarship completed its inaugural award of $66,000 in scholarship funds divided among nine students for the 2022-2023 school year. On a hot summer afternoon in August, local church leaders honored these first-ever recipients in an emotional ceremony at Forsyth County’s Browns Bridge Church. Black scholars took to the podium to read their scholarship essays and share stories of their ancestors.
The healing power of generosity
That afternoon, Elon’s family story came full circle as she considered the remarks of one of the scholarship recipients, her own grandson, Briston Miles Holdip. Perhaps his thoughts summarize the healing power of generosity best:
“The questions that are in my mind the most after learning about the racial cleansing of Forsyth County in 1912 are, what if my great-great-grandfather had not had to flee and his land wasn’t taken? What would my family’s history look like today if he had been compensated for his 60 acres of land or allowed to stay and raise his family in Forsyth County? How would either scenario have changed the generations of my family? Would we be the family we are?
These are some of the questions I ponder, but instead I choose to focus on where God has brought us to. What happened in 1912 can now be a blessing to my brother and me. My great-great-grandfather’s sacrifice over 100 years ago can change my future, my children’s future, and my brother’s future and that of his family.”