Uncovering the history of four Black American towns buried under lakes

Mildred Europa Taylor August 20, 2021
A 1948 flood washed away the town of Vanport (Oregon Historical Society)

By 1888 in America, at least 200 Black towns and communities had been established nationwide. According to an article in The Washington Post, some of these towns were modeled on Black towns that had been formed after the American Revolution and during the antebellum era – from the late 1700s to 1860.

As time went by, some communities got lost completely. Recently on NBC’s streaming channel Peacock, television host Amber Ruffin introduced her audience to “The Secret History of Flooding Black Towns to Make Lakes.”

“Dozens of Black towns have been erased off the American map, not by burning them down, but by hiding them under water,” Ruffin began in a segment on “The Amber Ruffin Show” called “How Did We Get Here?”

She then went on to talk about the history of some Black American towns that were thriving until they were destroyed by lakes or natural parks. You can call them Drowned Towns and here are four of such towns:


It was a predominately Black town in Forsyth County, Georgia before Lake Lanier, now a recreational hotspot well known for boating and water sports was built on it. The Black town was burnt down in 1912 by a White mob after three Black men were accused of rape.

In September 1912, Rob Edwards and teens Earnest Knox and Oscar Daniel were arrested after being accused of raping and killing a young White woman called Mae Crow. A mob subsequently dragged Edwards out of jail and lynched him.

However, Daniel and Knox went to trial and were found guilty. The teenagers were sentenced to death by hanging. Not too long after, a White mob started attacking Black families in Oscarville, burning their land, schools and churches. In the end, about 1,000 Black people fled the town in fear.

After the Black families were forced out of their homes, Lake Lanier, named after Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier, was built on top of what was set on fire.


Built in 110 days in 1942, Vanport was a temporary housing project and an answer to Portland’s wartime housing shortage. Sometimes referred to as Vanport City or Kaiserville, Vanport was home to 40,000 people, about 40 percent of them African-American. Vanport had shopping centers, a hospital and movie theater, recreation centers, schools, and nurseries.

It was Oregon’s second-largest city at the time and home to the workers in Portland’s shipyards and their families. “But as America returned to peacetime and the shipyards shuttered, tens of thousands remained in the slipshod houses and apartments in Vanport, and by design, through discriminatory housing policy, many who stayed were African-American,” writes Smithsonian Magazine.

On May 30, 1948, Vanport was destroyed by a flood. The flood washed away the town in a day. About 15 people died and more than 17,000 were displaced. Vanport is currently the site of Delta Park.


It was founded in 1895 by Will Benson. A community of mostly Black residents, Benson was flooded in 1926 when Martin Dam was completed on the Tallapoosa River to form Lake Martin.


It was a small farming community with a bank, sawmill, gristmill, post office, its own gold mine among other businesses. Located on Blue Creek between what is now Curry’s Point and Stillwaters, Susannah was one of the earliest settlements in Tallapoosa county. Sadly, it would also be flooded by the waters of Lake Martin.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 21, 2021


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