In a recent episode of The Amber Ruffin Show, comedian and host Amber Ruffin shared a disturbing lesson in American history in which thriving Black communities were purposefully flooded or removed for lakes and parks. The trend, started in the early 1910s and lasting over several decades, was carried out through racial violence, intimidation, and discriminatory legal practices.
Georgia’s infamous Lake Lanier was first up on Ruffin’s list of Black towns flooded for public projects, which was once the thriving Black town of Oscarville. To make Lake Lanier, a white mob chased out the town’s 1,000 residents in a matter of eight years, covering churches, schools, cemeteries, and other structures with gallons of water.
“Over the past couple of years, more Americans have become familiar with the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre, where a white mob burned a vibrant Black community to the ground, which is crazy,” Ruffin said.
“Even crazier. Dozens of other Black towns have been erased off the American map, not by burning them down, but by hiding them underwater,” she added.
Other lakes and structures on the list were Alabama’s Lake Martin, and New York City’s world famous Central Park, which was created after the all-Black town of Seneca Village was demolished.
Ruffin explained that the demolition of these towns, much like the numerous race massacres in after the Civil War and into the summer of 1919 –– sometimes called Red Summer –– disrupted opportunities of generational wealth among Black people.
“The theory is that the short-term bad effects are worth the long-term benefits for the community. But it’s not fair if the long-term gain is mostly for white people,” the comedian said.
To rectify the decades of damage, Ruffin says states should “cut some dang checks. That’s it.”
“If you’re going to kick Black people out of their homes, make sure they have the money to stay on their feet. Cut a dang check. And yes, you can pay their descendants dents too, because generational wealth is one of the many things that is destroyed when you put Black communities underwater. So cut a dang check.”