"In a peculiar way, The Family Tree is a fitting companion to Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved. Her novel dramatizes the generational effect of racial violence in the form of the spiteful ghost of a 2-year-old who died fleeing slavery. Branan also is examining the generational effect of racial violence but in the haunted consciousness of whites rather than the victims."
-- The Washington Post(Full article can be found here)
Through a deeply wrenching personal voyage, Branan delved into the roots of this prejudice amid the shame lurking in Southern life. Now, she is the author of the extraordinary and shocking new memoir The Family Tree:A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth.
-- Christian Science Monitor (Full article can be found here)
"She felt the story had to be told – even if it went against her family and her upbringing.
“Not many white Southern women write about the misdeeds and the sins of their ancestors,” Branan says. “It’s bred into us. It’s in our DNA not to do it. I had to find the story, and then I had to find the courage.”
"She wasn’t shy with what she found. As the descendant of several small-town sheriffs and the member of a family whose ethnically diverse branches twine through both town and country in Harris County, Ga., even old-timers she’d never met knew of her or at least of her family. Some of them were descended from her great-great grandfather’s slaves – or from slave-owners’ “second families” with women they owned."
-- Raleigh News and Observer (Full article can be found here.)
"With resolve, [Branan] fires an explosive charge into her complex genealogy, reforming the blasted shards into a smoldering bush of ghosts."
--Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Full article can be found here.)
Branan does a splendid job of setting the stage by describing the early history of Harris County and the surrounding area, as well as the heated racial atmosphere of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many Southern families have similar tales buried in their past, and possess unacknowledged branches to their family trees that cross and recross the color line. Perhaps books such as this one are a tiny step on the long road towards reconciliation.
Biography & Memoir
"Both a deeply personal narrative infused with a charming Southern flavor and a compelling historical journey...A ghastly, dizzying descent into the coldblooded clannishness of the Southern racist mindset."
Kirkus (Starred Review) (Full article can be found here.)
At first the story is dismissed as the way white southerners at the time dealt with “racial matters.” But Branan digs deeper, wondering what causes mild-mannered, churchgoing people to become “cold-blooded killers.” An important and sadly still relevant story.
Booklist (Starred Review)
"If you think Faulkner made it up, enlighten yourself by reading Karen Branan’s nonfiction account of a lynching in the family. What makes this 'past is not past' lesson so moving and admirable is the exacting reportorial clarity with which Branan approaches the confusion of race, sex, murder and myth in her southern bloodlines. A model of truth-seeking."
Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer-Prize Winning author of Carry Me Home
"I have never read a book that undertakes such an unsparingly personal engagement with the fraught subject of lynching as "The Family Tree." In it, Branan drills deep and relentlessly into the circumstances surrounding a 1912 lynching in a small-town, when four innocent African Americans were dragged from jail and hanged for a murder committed by a white man. Hamilton, Georgia was Branan’s hometown, and the event in question lingered persistently in local folklore for generations. Branan peels away layer after of deliberate falsification, distorted memory, and deliberate self-justification to expose the long-buried webs of intimate cross-racial relationships of many types that existed within the dark underbelly of the Jim Crow era, which extended far into the twentieth century."
Fergus Bordewich,, author of The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
"'What turns mild-mannered churchgoing family men into cold-blooded killers?' That question sits at the heart of this riveting new book. The Family Tree brings to life the most chilling event ever seen, heard and smelled in Hamilton, Georgia in prose that often borders on poetry. By the end, Branan not only learns the truth behind a lynching, but the truth about how much honesty it will take to heal America’s still-raw racial wounds."
Betty DeRamus, Pulitzer-Prize Finalist and author of Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad
"The Family Tree is a powerful and compelling account of mob violence that highlights the relationship between historical memory and racial violence in America. How easy we forget— Branan forces us all to remember."
Crystal N. Feimster, Yale University Professor and author of Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching
“Branan has written a book of exceptional courage. She gives us a rare glimpse into the lives and minds of white southerners who lynched their black neighbors, engaged in moonshining, lived desperate lives, and yet were held in high esteem in their communities. As much as any book I know, The Family Tree gives a human face to the tragic human relations of the Jim Crow South.”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, UNC History Department Chair and author of Lynching in the New South
"Karen Branan goes where few white Southerners dare to tread: to the skeletons in the family closet. Rather keeping the door closed, Branan takes an honest look at her family’s connection to a lynching that occurred more than a century ago. The result is a gripping and chilling story of race and a legacy of racism that echoes into the present."
W. Ralph Eubanks, author of Ever is a Long Time
"Karen Branan didn’t listen to the aunt who told her 'not to go shaking those family trees.' Shake them she did. And the fruit her efforts bore is a bold, honest, and healing account of racial injustice, family, and personal growth. The Family Tree is a story that needed to be told and to be shared."
Patricia Bell-Scott, author of The Firebrand and the First Lady
"The Family Tree is the painfully honest account of a 1912 hanging of four innocent black people in Georgia. With meticulous reporting and a dogged persistence for truth, the author lays bare the roles of one Georgia community and her own great-grandfather who, as sheriff, was charged with protecting the victims--one of whom was related by blood. The book is a brave, unflinching memoir about the South’s complicated racial relationships."
Patsy Sims, author of The Klan and Cleveland Benjamin’s Dead!: A Struggle for Dignity in Louisiana’s Cane Country
"Karen Branan has succeeded stupendously in telling a story that needs to be told. Her meticulous documentation of an egregious act brought tears to my eyes. Her painful narrative is one that needs to be read by anyone who realizes that, in order to heal the wounds of America’s past, we must confront the ugly truth in all of its gory detail."
Sharon Leslie Morgan, co-author of Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade
"I appreciate Karen Branan's courage and integrity. It will take her and many more of similar character to truly begin the healing of our country, which still believes it wears the white hat in the country's melodrama."
James Hollis, New York Times Bestselling Author
"With the determination of a true investigative journalist, Karen Branan exposes not just her own story but a shocking chapter in American history. The Family Tree is a compelling read, both necessary and unforgettable."
Warren Read, author of The Lyncher in Me
THE FAMILY TREE is 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.
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. GEORGIA CENTER FOR THE BOOK