The Family Tree

A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth

The Family Tree

“A story well worth putting yourself through...there is something exhilarating about confronting the past in all its ugliness and realizing that doing so has made you stronger” (The Washington Post).

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. 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.
  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 312 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476717197 | 
  • February 2017
List Price $16.00
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About the Author

Karen Branan
Photograph © Brad Branan

Karen Branan

Karen Branan is a veteran journalist who has written for newspapers, magazines, the stage, and television for almost fifty years. Her work has appeared in Life, Mother Jones,  Ms., Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on various television networks. Branan is affiliated with Coming to the Table, an organization founded by the black and white descendants of Thomas Jefferson. She grew up in Columbus, Georgia and now lives in Washington, DC.

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