Friday, May 13th
THE FAMILY TREE: A Lynching in Georgia, A Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth
A Evening With...
Is a true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912, written by the great-granddaughter of the sheriff who allowed the lynching. “Ever since I was a child,” Karen Branan writes, “I wanted to be a writer. More specifically, I wanted to write a book about a small town in the South.”
As a child growing up in Hamilton, Georgia, she played in empty courtrooms with her friends, eavesdropped on grownups’ conversations, and felt uncomfortable when whites talked in derogatory tones to or about black people. But it wasn’t until she was in her forties, interviewing her ninety-year-old grandmother for an oral history, that one of the grandmother’s comments unlocked a mystery.
In The Family Tree: A Lynching In Georgia, A Legacy Of Secrets, And My Search For The Truth (Atria Hardcover; 978-1-4767-1718-0; January 5, 2016; $26), Branan describes her almost twenty-year search for the truth behind her grandmother’s casual reply to the query: “What is your most unforgettable memory?” The reply was, “The hanging,” which Branan would learn referred to the 1912 lynching of four black residents, a woman and three men, in retaliation for the killing of the sheriff’s nephew. Newly sworn into office, the sheriff, Branan’s maternal great-grandfather, allowed the lynching, for which no one was ever apprehended.
A seasoned journalist, Branan returned to Hamilton to research the facts of that lynching. “I had always sensed that a day would come,” she writes, “when my career as a reporter and my complicated family history would collide in some crucial way, and I was certain this was that long-expected assignment. I accepted it without question.” Using archival information, her own memories, and interviews with the community’s elders, both black and white, Branan was able to piece together what really happened. But most importantly, the research unlocked a personal truth of another kind. Branan reveals the information she uncovered about her own slave-holding ancestors; confronts her own difficult, inexplicable feelings about race and family; and ultimately challenges her own self-image as an educated, modern woman who must transcend the racism practiced and experienced by the people who raised her. Through her research, Branan admits, “I discovered a murderous heritage, as well as a biracial heritage I had never known . . . . [I]n making these discoveries I was finally able to acknowledge some of my forebears’ characteristics within myself, both the good and the bad.”
Karen Branan is a veteran journalist who has written for newspapers, magazines, stage, and television for almost fifty years. Her work has appeared in Life, Mother Jones, Ms., Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Today’s Health, Learning, Parents, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on PBS, CBS, ABC, CBC, BBC, and CNN. She studied Jung's thought and worked with her dreams for over a decade in visits to The Apple Farm Community, founded by Helen Luke, and has attended Jung Society workshops for eight years.