Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America

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Leave now, or die! From the heart of the Midwest to the Deep South, from the mountains of North Carolina to the Texas frontier, words like these have echoed through more than a century of American history. The call heralded not a tornado or a hurricane, but a very unnatural disaster—a manmade wave of racial cleansing that purged black populations from counties across the nation. We have long known about horrific episodes of lynching in the South, but the story of widespread racial cleansingabove and below the ...

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Overview

Leave now, or die! From the heart of the Midwest to the Deep South, from the mountains of North Carolina to the Texas frontier, words like these have echoed through more than a century of American history. The call heralded not a tornado or a hurricane, but a very unnatural disaster—a manmade wave of racial cleansing that purged black populations from counties across the nation. We have long known about horrific episodes of lynching in the South, but the story of widespread racial cleansingabove and below the Mason-Dixon line—has remained almost entirely unknown. Time after time, in the period between Reconstruction and the 1920s, whites banded together to drive out the blacks in their midst. They burned and killed indiscriminately and drove thousands from their homes, sweeping entire counties clear of blacks to make them racially "pure." The expulsions were swift-in many cases, it took no more than twenty-four hours to eliminate an entire African-American population. Shockingly, these areas remain virtually all-white to this day. Based on nearly a decade of painstaking research in archives and census records, Buried in the Bitter Waters provides irrefutable evidence that racial cleansing occurred again and again on American soil, and fundamentally reshaped the geography of race. In this groundbreaking book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot Jaspin has rewritten American history as we know it.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

The term cleansingused in relation to groups of people has come to convey an ugly reality Americans usually associate with distant places. Here, however, Pulitzer Prize-winning Cox Newspapers editor Jaspin dredges up the ugly reality of white Americans, from the late 1860s through the 1930s,"cleansing" their living and working spaces to make them white-only enclaves. Using census data, Jaspin reveals a whiting-out pattern in about one in 12 of the 3100 U.S. counties. Beyond statistics, he re-creates the stories of rural towns, villages, and whole counties emptying themselves of blacks. He shows vigilantes at work, but more than mobs made this unsavory history. In everyday community activities, whites worked to drive blacks out, and keep them out, of their American dream. Jaspin gives context to accounts of whites destroying single black communities, such as Alfred L. Brophy's excellent Reconstructing the Dreamland, about the 1921 Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK, or the various treatments of Rosewood, FL, in 1922. Critics will quibble about whites' motives, but Jaspin's facts are dauntingly indisputable. Essential for collections on modern America, local history, and U.S. race relations.
—Thomas J. Davis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465036363
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/5/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author


DON LESLIE has appeared on and off Broadway as well as in over fifteen feature films and various episodic television shows. He is an accomplished audiobook narrator and also voices commercials, on-air narrations, and movie trailers.

ELLIOT JASPIN won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1979, and in 1993 he was awarded the Kiplinger Distinguished Contribution to Journalism Award by the National Press Foundation. He is the System Editor for Cox Newspapers, where he specializes in computer-assisted reporting. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2007

    Should be required reading in school

    This is an incredible book - not just because of the intensive research or the personal stories, but because this all happened here in the US. It's a potent reminder that this country has a long way to go.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    DEEPLY MOVING AND FACTUAL

    Regrettably, there is a great deal in our country's history of which we are now ashamed. Surely the years between 1874 and the 1920s in America saw some of the most deplorable events. During that period of time racial cleansing took place over a wide geographical area. This was cruel, senseless and more to our disgrace these actions were condoned at the time and glossed over today. Author Jaspin is twice a Pulitzer Prize winner, and is a reporter for Cox Newspapers. Years of prodigious research were poured into his book which presents clear evidence of what took place. Yet we hear of what was an apparent whitewash by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 'Editors ignored clear conflicts of interest while editing the racial cleansing series. Procedures designed to protect the integrity of the reporting process were dispensed with. And finally the head of the company's newspaper division overrode the judgment of editors in Austin and Washington and ordered that a different term be substituted for 'racial cleansings.' It is a cautionary tale about the lingering shame that trumps honest discussion of the full history of America's racial cleansings.' How sad that racial cleansing did occur - sadder yet that some will not acknowledge our misdeeds. The apt title for Jaspin's book comes from the pen of Zora Neale Hurston: 'Ah done died in grief and been buried in de bitter waters, and Ah done rose agin from de dead lak Lazarus. ' For those who heard 'Leave now, or die!' their lives were overturned in mere hours as they fled carrying what possessions they could. Those were the lucky ones - countless others were killed, their homes burned as blacks were driven from entire counties. Thus, even today some of these areas are still 'lily-white.' According to the courts blacks were not considered citizens. Thus, it was quite literally leave or die. Jaspin bases his information on countless interviews, census records, and archives. It is a tragic story but a true one. Actor Don Leslie offers an accomplished reading of Buried in the Bitter Waters, clearly stating facts and movingly relating the words of those interviewed. Highly recommended. - Gail Cooke

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