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.
ARC: The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth
Author: Karen Branan
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: January 5, 2016