The Former Black Neighborhood of Oscarville, Ga. Is Now Lake Lanier

Kori Williams - Author

Aug. 2 2023, Updated 4:35 p.m. ET

This article mentions allegations of sexual assault.

Every year during Black History Month, individuals and organizations alike use their social media platforms to discuss different aspects of what it means to be Black in America. Social media definitely has an important place here — not only to spread news, but also to raise awareness on certain topics, and to educate the masses on certain historical events that may have been swept under the rug.

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And during Black History Month in 2022, one TikTok creator used their platform to spread awareness about the history behind Lake Lanier, a formerly Black neighborhood that exiled its BIPOC population due to racism, and is now a body of water.

Amber Ruffin smiles on a red carpet
Source: Getty Images
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Lake Lanier is a critical part of Black history.

In a TikTok video posted by Sunshine Lively, we learn a brief history about Lake Lanier in Forsyth County, Ga. The creator is standing in front of a clip from The Amber Ruffin Show — specifically a segment called "How Did We Get Here." In the segment, Ruffin explains that Lake Lanier was previously a predominantly Black neighborhood called Oscarville.

During Oscarville's lifetime, it housed dozens of families, a church, and a school. But it ceased to exist in 1912. In that year, two Black teenagers (who were tried as adults) were accused of sexual assault — NPR goes into more detail about the case.

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The teens were arrested, charged with the crime, and sentenced to death all in one day, and from the TikTok video, it's unclear how fair or just this process was.

After the two teens died, Ruffin says a mob of white men from Georgia raided Oscarville, either killing or chasing out all of the Black people from the area. In total, about 1,100 people were driven out of Oscarville and the surrounding area.

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Decades later, Oscarville became Lake Lanier.

According to The Amber Ruffin Show, by 1920, there were no Black people left in Forsyth County. In the 1950s, white people who remained in the area intentionally flooded the town formally known as Oscarville. They turned what was once a town of 1,100 Black people into a lake, and named it Lake Lanier, after the Georgia-born poet and Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier, as per the Lake Lanier Association.

In March 2023, the federal government considered changing the names of both Lake Lanier and Buford Dam. Like Lanier, Algernon Sidney Buford served in the Confederate Army. However, as AP News reported at the time, the government put the idea on hold after after Georgia locals protested.

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In an interview with NPR, author Patrick Phillips discussed his experience of living in Forsyth County as a white person, when it was still predominantly white. He is white himself, but moved to the area from Atlanta at a young age. Even then, though, racism was rampant.

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"I had noticed that there were no Black people in the county compared to my old neighborhood in Atlanta," Phillips said. "And when I asked kids on the bus why that was, and, you know, I had heard lots of racist jokes and people referred to black folks with the N-word almost entirely."

A number of formerly Black towns across the U.S. have similar stories.

This unfortunately isn't an anomaly — there have been other Black neighborhoods where the residents have been chased out and the area flooded.

The video mentions Kowaliga, Ala. as another example. It was once home to the first Black railroad, but now, it sits underwater, in what is now known as Lake Martin. Central Park in New York City is also home to a former Black neighborhood called York Hill — aka Seneca Village — which became the Central Park Reservoir.

This article, originally published on Feb. 18, 2022, has been updated.

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