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The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth

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In the tradition of Slaves in the Family, the provocative true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912—written by the great-granddaughter of the sheriff charged with protecting them. Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctio In the tradition of Slaves in the Family, the provocative true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912—written by the great-granddaughter of the sheriff charged with protecting them. Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctions the lynching of a black woman and three black men, all of them innocent. For Karen Branan, the great-granddaughter of that sheriff, this isn’t just history, this is family history. Branan spent nearly twenty years combing through diaries and letters, hunting for clues in libraries and archives throughout the United States, and interviewing community elders to piece together the events and motives that led a group of people to murder four of their fellow citizens in such a brutal public display. Her research revealed surprising new insights into the day-to-day reality of race relations in the Jim Crow–era South, but what she ultimately discovered was far more personal. A gripping story of privilege and power, anger, and atonement, The Family Tree transports readers to a small Southern town steeped in racial tension and bound by powerful family ties. Branan takes us back in time to the Civil War, demonstrating how plantation politics and the Lost Cause movement set the stage for the fiery racial dynamics of the twentieth century, delving into the prevalence of mob rule, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the role of miscegenation in an unceasing cycle of bigotry. Through all of this, what emerges is a searing examination of the violence that occurred on that awful day in 1912—the echoes of which still resound today—and the knowledge that it is only through facing our ugliest truths that we can move forward to a place of understanding.


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In the tradition of Slaves in the Family, the provocative true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912—written by the great-granddaughter of the sheriff charged with protecting them. Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctio In the tradition of Slaves in the Family, the provocative true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912—written by the great-granddaughter of the sheriff charged with protecting them. Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctions the lynching of a black woman and three black men, all of them innocent. For Karen Branan, the great-granddaughter of that sheriff, this isn’t just history, this is family history. Branan spent nearly twenty years combing through diaries and letters, hunting for clues in libraries and archives throughout the United States, and interviewing community elders to piece together the events and motives that led a group of people to murder four of their fellow citizens in such a brutal public display. Her research revealed surprising new insights into the day-to-day reality of race relations in the Jim Crow–era South, but what she ultimately discovered was far more personal. A gripping story of privilege and power, anger, and atonement, The Family Tree transports readers to a small Southern town steeped in racial tension and bound by powerful family ties. Branan takes us back in time to the Civil War, demonstrating how plantation politics and the Lost Cause movement set the stage for the fiery racial dynamics of the twentieth century, delving into the prevalence of mob rule, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the role of miscegenation in an unceasing cycle of bigotry. Through all of this, what emerges is a searing examination of the violence that occurred on that awful day in 1912—the echoes of which still resound today—and the knowledge that it is only through facing our ugliest truths that we can move forward to a place of understanding.

30 review for The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Rating: B+ Source: Edelweiss Some good books are fun to read. You ENJOY them, you laugh, and you smile. Other good books are NOT necessarily fun to read. They are still good books, and often, important books. They are books people SHOULD read. But they are not enjoyable and they are not fun. The Family Tree is one of those books. As an adult, author Karen Branan learns the horrible truth about her family’s involvement in the lynching of three black men and 1 black woman in a small town in Georgia Rating: B+ Source: Edelweiss Some good books are fun to read. You ENJOY them, you laugh, and you smile. Other good books are NOT necessarily fun to read. They are still good books, and often, important books. They are books people SHOULD read. But they are not enjoyable and they are not fun. The Family Tree is one of those books. As an adult, author Karen Branan learns the horrible truth about her family’s involvement in the lynching of three black men and 1 black woman in a small town in Georgia in 1912. With this backdrop, she discusses race relations and the mistreatment of blacks in the South (specifically, Georgia) from the end of slavery to beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. She focuses on the tangled web of family relations that both bound and separated blacks and whites. Family ties between prominent white families led them to protect each other from prosecution for crimes against blacks. It also intimidated others and kept them from speaking out. White men often kept black mistresses and therefore had “two families”. This further complicated matters. Branan discusses the shame, remorse, and hurt she felt upon realizing her ancestor’s role in these atrocities. Eventually, she has reconciled with this truth. She writes that many whites do not want to really look at the ways blacks have been treated because we are afraid of knowing the pain our families have caused. It is hard to sit with that knowledge. But, she says, “It’s just that fear of knowing, however, that continues to keep blacks and whites divided.” This makes sense to me. I have to admit, I know very little about my family ancestors. I know they came to Missouri from Kentucky (and there from Virginia). I know they were poor. But, even so, I don’t know if they had slaves or how they treated blacks. But, I do know I grew up in an area that was not racially diverse. It was mainly white and there were very few minorities. This is partly attributed to a lynching of 3 black men in 1906. After they lynching, most blacks left the area. They have yet to come back. The only reason I didn’t give this book an A is because I often got confused with all the names and family members. I wasn’t always sure who was being discussed. But make no mistake, even though this book made me uncomfortable, it is a good book. I needed to read it, and I needed to be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is not a bad thing. It’s how we learn, how we grow, and how we start to come together to solve problems.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Ross

    A harrowing read, but well worth the time spent enduring it. For us Southerners, this ought to be mandatory reading, especially in this time of escalated racial tension, the resurgence of white supremacy (which has been one of the factors in the popularity of president-elect Donald Trump and the alt-right movement - and the spin from the extreme right, which sounds, as recounted in this book, eerily fresh and familiar in 2017), and in the whole discussion of white privilege (I actually understand A harrowing read, but well worth the time spent enduring it. For us Southerners, this ought to be mandatory reading, especially in this time of escalated racial tension, the resurgence of white supremacy (which has been one of the factors in the popularity of president-elect Donald Trump and the alt-right movement - and the spin from the extreme right, which sounds, as recounted in this book, eerily fresh and familiar in 2017), and in the whole discussion of white privilege (I actually understand this concept and how it applies personally to me, but the reality of us, the American population in general, is that genetically and racially, we are mutts, not a pure strain or line of anything, no matter what we claim in our religious organizations, our nation, and in our society). This book shows the legacy of slavery first, racism second, and Southern hypocrisy third. The bigger picture is that Branen's story weaves through the South and no Southerners can - although it seems that most do (my roots are Kansas and Oklahoma, but from the little I know about my biological background, although Irish is predominant, there is also a lot of other "stuff" mixed in so that it's impossible to know anything for certain, but the one truth is that I don't have any kind of "pure" bloodline - and, frankly, most of us Americans don't) - claim a bloodline that is purely Caucasian/European. There are absolutes in the universe. I know that. I believe that. But racial superiority is not one of those. Racial purity - at least the way it is presented by the haters, the inciters, and the killers -doesn't exist. We must grow up. Truly if God so loved the world (notice John didn't exclude a single human being - it is sin and evil we hate, whatever form it appears in and wherever it appears, not the people who were made in God's own image) that He gave His only Son to redeem them (John 3:16), then that must be the same mind and example we follow. Anything other than that or that falls short of that is unacceptable.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Read In Colour

    The writer got bogged down in family history and who was related to whom. It made it difficult to keep up with what was going on. I understand that it was personal for her as it's told from her point of view as the granddaughter of a sheriff during this incident, but the story could have been better told. There's a lot of going back and forth between present day and the past and it only gets really interesting when she begins to interview people that were alive when the actual lynching took plac The writer got bogged down in family history and who was related to whom. It made it difficult to keep up with what was going on. I understand that it was personal for her as it's told from her point of view as the granddaughter of a sheriff during this incident, but the story could have been better told. There's a lot of going back and forth between present day and the past and it only gets really interesting when she begins to interview people that were alive when the actual lynching took place. There's a real desire on her part to assuage her white guilt, but it does a disservice to the overall story. The focus of the story shouldn't have been on how she feels about knowing how cowardly & racist her grandfather, mother, aunts, etc. are or how she found out she wasn't as liberal as she thought she was. The story of the actual victims in the story are glossed over. I was reading this for their story, not hers. Since the name of the book is The Family Tree, and she spent so much time delving into her white family history, I would have liked her to spend as much time talking about her black relatives instead of glossing over meeting them at a reunion. I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, it came up short.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Donna Lewis

    This was a difficult book for me to read, partly because as non-fiction historical fiction, some of the text is detailed and dry, but mostly because the subject is horrifying. I cannot think of anything worse than a lynching. This author, Karen Branan focuses on the lynching of four African Americans - three men and one woman - in 1922. This was the first, but not the last, lynching of a woman in Georgia. And, as an aside, she was innocent. The historical data is very well researched and takes t This was a difficult book for me to read, partly because as non-fiction historical fiction, some of the text is detailed and dry, but mostly because the subject is horrifying. I cannot think of anything worse than a lynching. This author, Karen Branan focuses on the lynching of four African Americans - three men and one woman - in 1922. This was the first, but not the last, lynching of a woman in Georgia. And, as an aside, she was innocent. The historical data is very well researched and takes the reader through the violent Georgia past through the growth of the KKK and the NAACP. As late as 1972, although there were no more lynchings in Georgia, the state led the nation in executions, with 80% of those being black. This was a rough journey for the author who discovered that she shares “a murderous heritage, as well as a biracial heritage” with villains, bystanders and victims. She ends with: “As I bring this book to a close, America is once again aflame with racial violence and discrimination. There is no question that, as a nation, we have yet to honestly face our history and to trust embrace African Americans as full-fledged citizens and members of our human family. I believe this is the only way we can heal, as individuals and as a nation.” One step forward...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Karen Branan relates the story of her family sparked by her discovery of a lynching in Hamilton, Georgia, her ancestral town. She found herself related to one of those hanged because of an ancestor's second family with a black woman. While it is obvious the author researched the story well, the story seemed to drag a little too much in places. In places she seems to include abstract information that could not come from an interviewed source and did not come from the cited account. It is an inter Karen Branan relates the story of her family sparked by her discovery of a lynching in Hamilton, Georgia, her ancestral town. She found herself related to one of those hanged because of an ancestor's second family with a black woman. While it is obvious the author researched the story well, the story seemed to drag a little too much in places. In places she seems to include abstract information that could not come from an interviewed source and did not come from the cited account. It is an interesting read that shows a dark side of Southern history. I appreciated the author's family chart in the front of the book which helped place individuals. I detest the blind endnotes used in this book. Please give me footnotes or at least numbered endnotes so one is aware of their existence!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Rating: 3.5 The Family Tree is a combination memoir and history of Harris County Georgia from Reconstruction to the present, with a focus on race relations. The organizing story is a 1912 lynching of three black/mixed race men and one woman - the first woman lunching in Georgia. Author Branan, it turns out is related to the victim of the murder that spawned the lynching, the perpetrators of the crime, and one of the victims of the lynching itself. She has done lots of impressive research, from pe Rating: 3.5 The Family Tree is a combination memoir and history of Harris County Georgia from Reconstruction to the present, with a focus on race relations. The organizing story is a 1912 lynching of three black/mixed race men and one woman - the first woman lunching in Georgia. Author Branan, it turns out is related to the victim of the murder that spawned the lynching, the perpetrators of the crime, and one of the victims of the lynching itself. She has done lots of impressive research, from personal interviews of family members of all concerned, newspapers, church histories. Her focus is not on the gory crime itself, though that information is there, but more on the intertwined relationships and politics of the black and white communities of Hamilton and Columbus, Georgia. The story and the backstories are fascinating. The writing and the editing of the book, though, could use some refining. The "backstory" sections are not always crisply written and sometimes interrupt the story at curious places. There's information missing or at least not presented (the actual murderer for instance) and rather than come out and say she's not going to tell us who did it Branan muddles her language and goes vague and philosophical - and wordy. And there are some pretty big grammatical errors that editing should have caught. All that messed up the flow of the book for me and sometimes sent me flipping back through the pages trying to figure out what she was talking about. That surprised me, because Branan's credentials are impeccable. That said, I'd recommend the book to anyone interested in Southern history, particularly pre-Civil Rights Movement. The personal level from which Branan is able to tell this story is enlightening.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sunny

    Entirely too much speculation and overly dramatic theorizing to truly be considered a non-fiction book. The author seems so intent on demonizing her own family and the town they came from that she never offers any real proof that the lynching victims were actually innocent of the crime. It’s pretty amazing that she can find such detailed accounts of what the townspeople were doing and even thinking during the lynching over 100 years ago, but can find no evidence of who actually killed Norman Had Entirely too much speculation and overly dramatic theorizing to truly be considered a non-fiction book. The author seems so intent on demonizing her own family and the town they came from that she never offers any real proof that the lynching victims were actually innocent of the crime. It’s pretty amazing that she can find such detailed accounts of what the townspeople were doing and even thinking during the lynching over 100 years ago, but can find no evidence of who actually killed Norman Hadley. I’m in no way condoning the lynching, but I would like a few more hard facts rather than conjecture and assumptions. The book is riddled with inconsistencies and errors that never should have made it into print. There’s one sentence toward the end of the book that borders on ridiculous and makes me really question the author’s credibility: “Not so long ago, the eighty-two-year-old had been found on his parlor floor, beaten to death with chains, my mother told me, by a motorcycle gang that was blackmailing him over his homosexuality.” This is referring to Rev. Alex Copeland and is completely false. It may have been speculated by gossip lovers, but it was never a known fact that Rev. Copeland was a homosexual and, in my opinion, an attempt to ‘out’ an old man in such a public way over 30 years after his death is not cool at all. Easily done research would also reveal that he died at age 89 in a nursing home. Given this egregiously false statement, I can’t help but wonder how many other things in this book were not fact-checked or as well-researched as they should have been.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laura LeAnn

    Branan tells the story of the town she grew up in, Hamilton, GA, and her family's - both black and white - history. It focuses on a lynching of four individuals - 3 men and 1 woman - that occurred in 1912 in Hamilton. But beyond that central story is the story of her learning of her own families (yes plural), their secrets, and the interconnectedness of all of the people in this town. She flips between telling the story of the lynching and the various other stories that are connected to it to th Branan tells the story of the town she grew up in, Hamilton, GA, and her family's - both black and white - history. It focuses on a lynching of four individuals - 3 men and 1 woman - that occurred in 1912 in Hamilton. But beyond that central story is the story of her learning of her own families (yes plural), their secrets, and the interconnectedness of all of the people in this town. She flips between telling the story of the lynching and the various other stories that are connected to it to the telling of how she found out about this story, and how she determined a bit of the truth - at least the part that is able to be determined. This book can help all of us to learn something, not only of the story of this lynching, but how painful and difficult and heart wrenching it is to confront one's family's own past and to acknowledge the part your family played. While she did not participate in the events of 1912 (she was born almost 30 years after the lynching), little bits and pieces of its effects have been imbedded in her makeup from her family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, mother, father, etc.) and she has had to come to terms with those. As someone that enjoys researching my own family genealogy and that of other friends, this is part of why I do it. To learn about the not so nice (and even hateful) things that have happened, that people have been involved in, and that I can acknowledge and ask for forgiveness for on behalf of those individuals and the long-lasting effects it has had on others.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    I read this book after hearing the author speak, very movingly, about the experience of researching and writing it. Also I have lived in a county bordering Harris County, the setting, for 40 years so the places, at least, were familiar. Reading the book was not a pleasant experience but it was enlightening and thought provoking. I give the author great credit for her honesty and tenacity in telling a painful story, of a lynching of 4 innocent African Americans in 1912 in her hometown, in a count I read this book after hearing the author speak, very movingly, about the experience of researching and writing it. Also I have lived in a county bordering Harris County, the setting, for 40 years so the places, at least, were familiar. Reading the book was not a pleasant experience but it was enlightening and thought provoking. I give the author great credit for her honesty and tenacity in telling a painful story, of a lynching of 4 innocent African Americans in 1912 in her hometown, in a county where her great-grandfather was the sheriff. The book shifts back and forth in time, going from the pre-Civil War roots of both the black and white families involved to the 1912 time of moonshining and "two families" by well-off white men when the lynching occurs and then sometimes to the author's childhood in the 1950s to the 1990s when she was doing research. Sometimes that does interrupt flow & readability but just bear with it. There's also a fascinating, sad postscript story about another innocent black man being killed in a Harris County jail in the 1940s. The book has a family tree for some of the characters mentioned in the front but it is confusing and doesn't cover everyone. Be prepared to give this a careful reading but also expect to learn a lot and to be troubled by our recent past. An important book, well worth 4 stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Roney

    Recently working on a family cemetery project, I've started to confront the uncomfortable fact that my relatives are buried in what in some ways is a Confederate cemetery--not officially, but in terms of the number of former Confederate soldiers buried there, including two of my great-great uncles. I was born and grew up white in Tennessee, so, almost inevitably, this is part of my heritage, and I've begun to contemplate what to do to repent for my ancestors, who were too poor, in the main, to o Recently working on a family cemetery project, I've started to confront the uncomfortable fact that my relatives are buried in what in some ways is a Confederate cemetery--not officially, but in terms of the number of former Confederate soldiers buried there, including two of my great-great uncles. I was born and grew up white in Tennessee, so, almost inevitably, this is part of my heritage, and I've begun to contemplate what to do to repent for my ancestors, who were too poor, in the main, to own slaves themselves, but who nevertheless partook of the racism that made slavery and Jim Crow possible. Reading The Family Tree by Karen Branan is part of the process of educating myself about how others have faced similar issues, and it's a valuable part of that. The book is a bit of a wild ride in a couple of ways. First, the history that Branan describes and that surrounds the 1912 lynching of three black men and one black woman in Harris County, Georgia, is astonishingly brutal, complicated, and emotionally fraught. Branan describes learning about her own relatives' numerous connections to this event and many other related events and how this changes her view of people she thought she knew and that she loved (such as her grandfather, who was the sheriff who failed to effectively protect these prisoners who were in his care). The second way that the book is a bit wild is in its organization. The book moves back and forth through the history of Harris County, the state of Georgia, and what was going on in Washington and elsewhere; back and forth through time across the traditions of slavery and the vicissitudes of the Jim Crow era; and around and around all these interrelated families. It can be hard to keep it all straight, and this annoyed me in the first several chapters of the book. But I finally came to see that as part of the point--it was a wild time and all the people, events, laws, and constantly shifted and created conflict and confusion. I finally just sat back and read through it impressionistically instead of like a lawyer. I read it emotionally instead of analytically. I let it hit me how messed up it all was, how unhappy everyone was, the extent to which racism and brutality were the sick air that everyone breathed. And that is what Branan's book does well. She captures the pervasive air of silence and shame that hung over white people--even those who wanted on some level to change, even those who had black lovers and friends. Perhaps her most important point is that the white people who were passive and, perhaps, even those who lynched black people, were ordinary. She claims that the were not "monsters," but people who did "monstrous things." I could quibble there--what else defines a "monster" other than monstrous deeds? But what I think is important is that she captures how schizoid the whole culture was and often remains. She captures how race and class intersected. She captures how innocence or guilt was not the issue in lynchings but, instead, how the lynchings served to paper over miscegenation and disenfranchisement and often white-on-white crime. But Brenan also makes it very clear how even those whites who participated in this hell were ashamed of their participation, of their own lawlessness, of their own racism. Branan brings up our current moment and the resurgence of white supremacy at the end of the book, but it's impossible not to think about that the entire time you read it. There was a way in which it made me feel hopeful--if people could change at least somewhat during and after the terrible times that she describes, then we can, too. We can recover from this time we're living through. On the other hand, I felt sad that the markers of shame among virulent racists seem to be fewer. And while Branan describes a righteous Christianity (especially Methodism) that led the way to repentance for the sins of slavery and brutality after slavery, we currently have an often-perverted Christianity that advocates for sins like racism and violence. I see how the whites and blacks of Jim Crow ended up there, but I don't see how on Earth we ended up where we are today.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Cline

    The Family Tree, a lynching in georgia, a legacy of secrets, and my search for truth, by Karen Branan (pp 259). When the author learned from her father that he had killed a Black woman in his youth — an accident — she began a long search into her Georgia family and community. Turns out, her father did not kill anyone, but she was in fact related to a long line of people in her home town in Harris County, Georgia who directly or indirectly took part in lynchings and other horrendous treatment of The Family Tree, a lynching in georgia, a legacy of secrets, and my search for truth, by Karen Branan (pp 259). When the author learned from her father that he had killed a Black woman in his youth — an accident — she began a long search into her Georgia family and community. Turns out, her father did not kill anyone, but she was in fact related to a long line of people in her home town in Harris County, Georgia who directly or indirectly took part in lynchings and other horrendous treatment of Black residents. Clearly, unearthing her family and community history, including her own youth experiences, was exceedingly painful. She admits to searching for exculpatory details about her own family, and still cling to some of them, all the while acknowledging her own racism, that of her family, and of her community. In exquisite and sometimes overwhelming detail she shares a history of racism that is complicated by widespread, commonly known but universally suppressed sexual relations between Whites and Blacks. Mostly, the sex was between White males and female Blacks, and was almost always non-consensual. Many White men even had unacknowledged Black families in addition to their White wives and children. In effect, it was the rare individual who was not somehow related to people across the purported racial divide. Sparing little detail, Branen describes the overt and brutal racism of her family and community, and the complicity of every White community member, including named members of her family — and herself. A failing of the book is not having family trees of many of the interrelated characters, just to make sense of the sizzling array of names and relationships. This is a painful book to read, and has to have been an extremely difficult book to write, in no small part because of her family’s and the community’s resistance. The book includes historical perspectives to provide an understanding of how widespread lynchings, White complicity, corrupt legal systems, and political inaction created and perpetuated horrendous abuse of Blacks. This not the best book I’ve read on the subject in the last year, but it’s important because it is written from such a personal perspective.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bayliss Camp

    Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies. Tell me, tell me lies. This is the story of a poor little rich girl, a committed liberal (much like me, or one of the Schlegel sisters), a traitor to her class and caste, who discovers — apparently quite late in life — that Southern Gothic isn’t fiction. It’s fecking documentary. My complaints aren’t with the set-up. It’s accurately advertised for what it is. My complaints are with (a) the style (short, choppy chapters. Much cutting back and forth between p Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies. Tell me, tell me lies. This is the story of a poor little rich girl, a committed liberal (much like me, or one of the Schlegel sisters), a traitor to her class and caste, who discovers — apparently quite late in life — that Southern Gothic isn’t fiction. It’s fecking documentary. My complaints aren’t with the set-up. It’s accurately advertised for what it is. My complaints are with (a) the style (short, choppy chapters. Much cutting back and forth between present day and the past), (b) an unremitting commitment to the maudlin first-person, and (c) such thin characterization (she is a journalist, after all, not a writer of fiction) that it was really hard to keep all the names straight. If you’re interested in how thoroughly a lynching jacks up the white community (drug addiction, murders, lifelong nightmares, etc. - you know, the usual Faulknerian spiel), go for it. If you’re looking for anything approaching a black perspective on this type of event, you’re better off reading back issues of The Defender, or the collected works of I.B. Wells.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Darryl Pierce

    The focal point of the book was based on events that happened in 1912, but there is so much History in this book. The author does an excellent job of assembling all of the oral and written dialogue together to arrive at a truer picture of Post Cival War Georgia and specifically, Harris and Muscogee Counties. If it were not for the stories I personally heard from family members in other parts of Georgia and the South, this book could easily have been mistaken for fiction. It is not fiction, it is The focal point of the book was based on events that happened in 1912, but there is so much History in this book. The author does an excellent job of assembling all of the oral and written dialogue together to arrive at a truer picture of Post Cival War Georgia and specifically, Harris and Muscogee Counties. If it were not for the stories I personally heard from family members in other parts of Georgia and the South, this book could easily have been mistaken for fiction. It is not fiction, it is painful to read, but a real eye opener. If you ever lived in any rural town in the South, even now, this is a must read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Sandwiching the lynching tragedy of 4 individuals (1 female, 3 males) with the author's own family history, this story details one small Georgia town's ongoing fight to keep the horror of its past hidden. Branan's storytelling draws you in and her fight to honestly examine the part her own family played in this injustice is courageous. Read alongside Cone's "The Cross and the Lynching Tree" or Xendi's "Stamped from the Beginning," one will see clearly how poorly we've handled our nation's founda Sandwiching the lynching tragedy of 4 individuals (1 female, 3 males) with the author's own family history, this story details one small Georgia town's ongoing fight to keep the horror of its past hidden. Branan's storytelling draws you in and her fight to honestly examine the part her own family played in this injustice is courageous. Read alongside Cone's "The Cross and the Lynching Tree" or Xendi's "Stamped from the Beginning," one will see clearly how poorly we've handled our nation's foundation built on the bloodshed of the innocents (Native American and African American).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    Karen Branan has found a way to connect Georgia's disturbing history of lynching to a very personal story about her own family. She unearths past traumas living just below the surface that, without anyone wanting to acknowledge it, have deeply impacted so many lives. She also has many uncomfortable conversations with her own family and community about race and complicity, the kind many of us have been having lately. Karen Branan has found a way to connect Georgia's disturbing history of lynching to a very personal story about her own family. She unearths past traumas living just below the surface that, without anyone wanting to acknowledge it, have deeply impacted so many lives. She also has many uncomfortable conversations with her own family and community about race and complicity, the kind many of us have been having lately.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Roger Smitter

    Branan gives us a very engaging story about lynching in the Deep South in the years after the Civil War. She pulls together a set of data that gives us an insight into a time and place we don’t know much about. It’s a powerful story that makes history an engaging story. The last chapter is especially powerful.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shelley

    The content was incredibly powerful, especially for this white southerner, and an important part of our history. The writing style was difficult for me to follow at times. The author skips around at times and goes into more detail about specific individuals than I thought was necessary. It became a distraction. I gave it 4 stars because of the importance of the content.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brett buckner

    A must read for those living in and around Columbus. A well researched book about a sad and reprehensible time in Harris County that some would like to forget, and most never knew about. The book is a tad dry Im spots and it can be a challenge keeping all the names straight, though that can be a downfall of an audio book

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sherry

    As a genealogy geek with a mother from the south, I thought I would love The Family Tree. I was wrong. It was hard to keep the characters straight, and it was hard to care about what happened. Maybe it wasn't the fault of the author (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt), but reading this was a chore for me. As a genealogy geek with a mother from the south, I thought I would love The Family Tree. I was wrong. It was hard to keep the characters straight, and it was hard to care about what happened. Maybe it wasn't the fault of the author (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt), but reading this was a chore for me.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Celia M parks

    Amazing truths about southern history All the stuff I suspected but didn't know comes out in this book . The research and honesty can take your breath away. You don't have to like what she writes but you should read it. Amazing truths about southern history All the stuff I suspected but didn't know comes out in this book . The research and honesty can take your breath away. You don't have to like what she writes but you should read it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Grace Freeman

    Very interesting but hard to follow which family members were which - a pedigree chart with the family and relationships laid out would have helped keep track.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Well researched.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Fascinating book about a woman who did not want to ignore her family history pertaining to race relations especially in light of having a biracial granddaughter.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marie Zahnle

    Haunting

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jane Irish Nelson

    The author is shocked when her grandmother tells her that her most unforgettable memory was "the hanging" that she had witnessed as a child. But, as a life-long journalist, she goes in search of the story, and makes a very surprising discovery: this lynching in the town of Hamilton in 1912 was common knowledge — and her great-grandfather was the sheriff there at the time. In the process of assimilating just what happened and why, she ends up digging deep into the local history, not just of Hamil The author is shocked when her grandmother tells her that her most unforgettable memory was "the hanging" that she had witnessed as a child. But, as a life-long journalist, she goes in search of the story, and makes a very surprising discovery: this lynching in the town of Hamilton in 1912 was common knowledge — and her great-grandfather was the sheriff there at the time. In the process of assimilating just what happened and why, she ends up digging deep into the local history, not just of Hamilton and Harris County, but of Georgia as well. This history is unsettling, as Georgia led the country in lynchings. The author discusses race relations, two-family families, miscegenation, and much more. All of these are very thought-provoking topics. I will probably never be able to fully understand some of these issues, since I am a white Pacific-Northwesterner, but I do believe, along with the author, that we need to keep working of improving the dialog between all races in hopes of making the future better for our children and grandchildren. Definitely worth reading. Highly recommended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    ”’Be careful when you go shaking those family trees,’ Evelyn had warned. ‘You never know what you’ll fine.’ She was sure as hell right about that.” This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. Although I have been reading more and more about African American history, I had no desire to read any more about lynching. I thought I had read enough. However, I attended a retreat about racial memory and the facilitator recommended that we read Branan’s account of her family. It has been months si ”’Be careful when you go shaking those family trees,’ Evelyn had warned. ‘You never know what you’ll fine.’ She was sure as hell right about that.” This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. Although I have been reading more and more about African American history, I had no desire to read any more about lynching. I thought I had read enough. However, I attended a retreat about racial memory and the facilitator recommended that we read Branan’s account of her family. It has been months since I read Branan’s research into her family, her hometown and the horrible crime that was covered up by both town and family. Although I avoided writing my review, I think about this book on a regular basis. So here I am, trying to write my thoughts about why this book had such an impact. First of all, I have done some family history research. Not of my own family, but I worked for two years at the Library of Virginia. We answered letters, (remember written letters?) from people all over the country who wanted to know more about their ancestors. I am fairly sure that none of them wanted to discover that their families had participated in the lynching of three men and one woman. I am impressed that Branan was willing to dig up such a painful past. She is a very brave woman. Next, Branan wrote a book. I realize that writing is her work and passion, but she could have kept this all quiet. She could have shared it with family and, maybe some friends and then let it all alone. Or, maybe, some things to reconcile and repair what happened, but instead she shared her family’s dirty laundry with the world. That also takes guts. The last reason this book has stuck with me is because of the setting in which I read it. I went to a retreat where the leader, Dr. Paula Parker talked about racial memory. She is an African American, one of many black people whose family suffered terrible fates because of enslavement. Her presentation was about what our bodies remember even if they have never actually experienced the remembered trauma. Branan’s family story along with Parker’s words have seared my brain. Humans do such terrible things to one another and our bodies carry the tale. These tales need to be stopped, but we just keep hurting one another. I have gotten a bit off topic. However, I believe that Branan has written a book which we all need to pay attention to. We need to stop the violence and to do that we must know the past.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Read

    I decided to read this book after I saw that the author, Karen Branan, would be at Fall For the Book at George Mason University in September. It is a great follow up to two previous books I recently finished - The Warmth of Other Suns and Just Mercy. The author was born and raised in Georgia and her grandfather and great-grandfather were Sheriffs there. In searching for more information about a story her father had told her about accidentally killing a young black woman in Hamilton, GA, she inste I decided to read this book after I saw that the author, Karen Branan, would be at Fall For the Book at George Mason University in September. It is a great follow up to two previous books I recently finished - The Warmth of Other Suns and Just Mercy. The author was born and raised in Georgia and her grandfather and great-grandfather were Sheriffs there. In searching for more information about a story her father had told her about accidentally killing a young black woman in Hamilton, GA, she instead stumbles on the story of a lynching that took place there on Jan. 22, 1912. Her grandmother had mentioned the lynching in passing some years earlier, but it wasn't until she started interviewing her extended family back in Georgia that she understood her Sheriff great-grandfather might have had a role in it. The book is well written, which is not a surprise since the author is a journalist by profession. For those who have done some genealogy, following the many families and family members will likely not be a distraction from the story. I've seen other reviews saying the cast of characters is hard to follow and made it difficult to follow the threads of relations and family connections. This is truly an integral part of the story she is telling - the family relationships both acknowledged and unacknowledged that ran across the racial spectrum of black and white. Karen Branan spent decades researching and writing this book. It is an important look at lynching in the context of race relations overlapped with familial relations. There is a lot of history in these pages that I was unfamiliar with and it helped to explain things like the race riot in Atlanta in 1906. And it's personal. It's her family's story. It's coming to terms with her family's role in the lynching of four innocent people, one of them the first woman ever lynched in Georgia. I found the book intriguing and would highly recommend it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eddie

    Acknowledging the darkness In 1912, in Harris County, Ga., at the oak tree next to the baptismal font at Friendship Baptist Church, four Negroes were hanged for the murder of Norman Hadley. One of the four was a woman, the first in Georgia to be lynched, one a preacher, and two farmers. There was no trial, just an angry mob intent on meting out their form of justice: An “...oft-repeated lesson...from those long ago days: that when the community wants a lynching, the community will get a lynching.” Acknowledging the darkness In 1912, in Harris County, Ga., at the oak tree next to the baptismal font at Friendship Baptist Church, four Negroes were hanged for the murder of Norman Hadley. One of the four was a woman, the first in Georgia to be lynched, one a preacher, and two farmers. There was no trial, just an angry mob intent on meting out their form of justice: An “...oft-repeated lesson...from those long ago days: that when the community wants a lynching, the community will get a lynching.” (p.155) It’s one thing to be an investigative reporter and this bit of history is suddenly revealed to you; it’s another when it happened in your hometown and you uncover the role your great-grandfather, the Sheriff, and grandfather, the Deputy Sheriff, has played in the ghastly lynching. In both instances, this is the case for author Karen Branen. Facing what seems to be an insurmountable headwind of family secrets and racial tension, Karen Branen is a truth-seeker and a truth-teller determined to salve to wounds of the past by exposing a history that is painful. A courageous effort on the part of Branen, to “..acknowledge the darkness in family history...” (p.180). Similar to What Virtue There Is In Fire (Sam Hose lynching in Newnan, Ga.) and Fire In A Canebreak (quadruple lynching in Walton County, Ga.), The Family Tree will move you with its vivid recounting and brutal honesty (Branan, who is white, provides an inside peek into her family’s position on race and race relations).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Thomas DeWolf

    Having known and worked with the author of this book for several years due to our mutual involvement with Coming to the Table, I've been looking forward reading The Family Tree for quite some time. Simply stated, it's a powerful story of Karen Branan's and her family's connection to a 1912 lynching of four African American people in a small, Georgia town. The story swirls in and out and around and through family, politics, power, and mostly... racism. Most important is the recognition that this Having known and worked with the author of this book for several years due to our mutual involvement with Coming to the Table, I've been looking forward reading The Family Tree for quite some time. Simply stated, it's a powerful story of Karen Branan's and her family's connection to a 1912 lynching of four African American people in a small, Georgia town. The story swirls in and out and around and through family, politics, power, and mostly... racism. Most important is the recognition that this lynching, that took place more than a century ago in 1912, continues to impact people's lives today. Unhealed trauma works that way. The most important line in the book for me is on page 165: "They would have little reason at that point to know how these things lodge themselves in the cells and sit there, reverberating far into the future." This powerful story, and so many others like it, will continue to reverberate far into the future, calling to us, SCREAMING to us to finally and honestly confront our nation's brutal, racist history. As Karen also writes, "...America is once again aflame with racial violence and discrimination. There is no question that, as a nation, we have yet to honestly face our history and to truly embrace African Americans as full-fledged citizens and members of our human family. I believe this is the only way we can heal, as individuals and as a nation." I highly recommend this book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    For the most part this read like a textbook and I understand that she had to address the political setting to tell the story, but...it didn't hold my interest for very long. I read a similar book not too long ago about the granddaughter of Amon Goeth trying to accept who she was in relation to her family. You can own your family, but they are not you and you are not responsible for their actions. It is not your place to feel apologetic as you cannot change history. I picked up the book for two re For the most part this read like a textbook and I understand that she had to address the political setting to tell the story, but...it didn't hold my interest for very long. I read a similar book not too long ago about the granddaughter of Amon Goeth trying to accept who she was in relation to her family. You can own your family, but they are not you and you are not responsible for their actions. It is not your place to feel apologetic as you cannot change history. I picked up the book for two reasons, 1) I thought it was genealogy related and it was to a degree and 2) the legacy of secrets. I found myself sorely disappointed as I just felt like the author was constantly trying to match up the image of the people in her family with the people she knew committed the atrocities of the lynchings. I don't feel she did the story justice as she couldn't seem to get out of her own head. Living in the deep south in the early 20th century, white and in a position of power would have surprised me if they were not members of the KKK or racial bigots. I don't think it was a legacy of secrets so much as it was a way of life to these folks and even years later, they saw nothing wrong with it. It seemed that the guilt they felt if any, is that folks 80 years later knew the family had participated in the lynchings and they could no longer hide it.

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