The second time Henry Ford made a racist town and it's so much worse than you could possibly imagine
Banned Histories of Race in America
Last week I wrote about that time Henry Ford made a racist white town and an enslaved Black town, but I left something out. A place called Ways Station.
Back in the 1920s Henry Ford started buying up land in Georgia. Tens of thousands of acres. It ends up being about 120 square miles all around the tiny village of Ways Station. He’d heard there was some kind of indigenous plant there he could use to make cheaper and better rubber. It didn’t work out, but by the mid-1930s his wife was looking for a new place to winter, so Ford started building.
Naturally, he wasn’t about to build just a nice little cabin. No, Henry needed a project. Being a demented racist, his project grew into something worse than you could possibly imagine.
Somewhere on his property Ford found the scorched ruins of Fort McAllister, the last confederate fort to fall defending Savannah. Northern forces had blown it out in 15 minutes, but Ford decided that past needed reckoning. So, he rebuilt the fort.
Then Henry found the spot where an enslaver’s plantation had been and built his own plantation. Henry’s, of course, would be bigger and better! The original had been called Richmond, so Ford called his Richmond Hill, showing that American ingenuity for which he was ever so famous.
He needed people to build this for him, so he hired locals. Like, all of them.
He looked at these poor, destitute southern rubes and decided he could make them into real people! He’d build them chapels and a sawmill and a bakery and a fire station and machine shops and 300 worker houses and a commissary for them to spend the money he was paying them. And he built schools. More than one because there had to be segregation because, don’t forget, Henry was a demented racist. He was once quoted as saying of his Richmond Hill project, “Now, I don’t want those niggers down there to go no further than seventh grade. That’s far enough. Give them a seventh-grade education and that will keep them out of trouble. But learn them how to work!”
Henry himself only finished the 8th grade.
Of course, there had been work. There were somewhere between 250 and 300 whiskey stills in the area. Each employed 2-3 men, but Henry had them all torn down so people didn’t have much of a choice other than to work for him. Like I wrote about last week in Inkster, certain behavior was required to stay in Henry’s employ. You had to dress a certain way, no drinking, of course and you had to go to the doctor.
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The doctor was one C. F. Coulton and he liked to run experiments. For example, after the discovery of a syphilis outbreak in a Savannah Black community, Coulton saw an opportunity. Unlike the wider known racist syphilis experiments, Coulton wasn’t into observing the effects of the disease so much as to see if there “was a difference between the city Negro and the country Negro.” Yeah. His position in Ways Station gave him “an ideal opportunity to test the blood of a large number of colored people who… had never lived in the city.”
Coulton’s experiments continued. He wanted to see the results of a drug called Atabrine, an untested ant-malarial made by a Nazi chemical company called I. G. Farben. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Farben was the company that made Zyklon B., the poisonous gas being used during the time of Coulton’s experiments to kill Jewish people in extermination camps.
The results were abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, yellow discoloration of the skin and temporary psychosis.
In 1941 Ways Station’s name was changed to Richmond Hill, the name of Ford’s plantation. The story does not stop there. There is a third town, believe it or not, in Brazil, which is where we’ll pick up next week…
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