(Nov. 14, 2016) Catherine Read interviews author Karen Branan about her recently published book The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, A Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth. A career journalist born and raised in Georgia, she became aware of a lynching in her family’s hometown of Hamilton through a comment made to her by her grandmother. It took over 25 years for the author to do the deep research necessary to uncover her family’s role in that tragic miscarriage of justice. Having come from a family of six Harris County Sheriffs, Ms. Branan was determined to find the truth of what happened on that fateful January night in 1912.
Ms. Branan’s journey is a deeply personal one. Her search into her own family’s history brought into focus the social, political and economic climate of the South that formed the backdrop for the series of events leading up to this lynching. One of the great strengths of her book is the well researched history that gives the central story some context. She was surprised to find the complex connections that existed in her family tree. In this interview she talks about recent DNA testing that has connected her to her African-American cousins in Harris County, Georgia.
This is an epic family drama at its core. In searching for the truth of what transpired at the Hamilton jail on that fateful night over 100 years ago, she had to address her own racism, the sense of responsibility for a great-grandfather who did not do his job in protecting those entrusted to his keeping, and the impact that decision made in that community.
Ms. Branan talks frankly in this interview about feeling that some acknowledgement needs to be made for the wrongs done to the African-American community. She understands the Black Lives Matter movement in the context of centuries of injustice done to generations of black Americans. Her own research, on so personal a level, has brought her face to face with her family’s role in the racial injustice perpetuated to this day.
This is a candid and thoughtful perspective on a dark aspect of our country’s history. I highly recommend reading her book The Family Tree.