The Class of '65:
A Student, a Divided Town, and the Long Road to Forgiveness
In the midst of racial strife, one young man showed courage and empathy. It took forty years for the others to join him…
Being a student at Americus High School was the worst experience of Greg Wittkamper’s life. Greg came from a nearby Christian commune, Koinonia, whose members devoutly and publicly supported racial equality. When he refused to insult and attack his school’s first black students in 1964, Greg was mistreated as badly as they were: harassed and bullied and beaten. In the summer after his senior year, as racial strife in Americus—and the nation—reached its peak, Greg left Georgia.
Forty-one years later, a dozen former classmates wrote letters to Greg, asking his forgiveness and inviting him to return for a class reunion. Their words opened a vein of painful memory and unresolved emotion, and set him on a journey that would prove healing and saddening.
The Class of ’65 is more than a heartbreaking story from the segregated South. It is also about four of Greg’s classmates—David Morgan, Joseph Logan, Deanie Dudley, and Celia Harvey—who came to reconsider the attitudes they grew up with. How did they change? Why, half a lifetime later, did reaching out to the most despised boy in school matter to them? This noble book reminds us that while ordinary people may acquiesce to oppression, we all have the capacity to alter our outlook and redeem ourselves.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 8
Greg felt the circle of boys closing around him. He was badly outnumbered and knew it wouldn't be a fair fight. As he turned away from the underclassman and back toward Thomas, the mob finally got what it had been screaming for. Thomas balled his right first and swung, striking Greg directly on the left cheek. He staggered and felt his knees buckle, but he didn't fall. Through the stars in his eyes and the ringing in his ears, a biblical vision came to him. He imagined Thomas as a young Roman soldier and himself as Jesus. It was a passion play, and he knew his part.
Greg stepped closer to the boy who had just hit him and jutted out his chin as if awaiting another blow.
"I love you, Thomas," he said.
The two stared at each other. Thomas said nothing. He looked confused. His arms seemed to fall limp.
“A spellbinding, deeply sensitive portrayal of the conflicted heart of the South. Through the stories of children who have now become middle age, we see racism crashing into conscience, cowardice transforming into courage.”—Hank Klibanoff, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Race Beat
“THE CLASS OF ‘65 is a rich and revealing portrait of one place and its people at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a moment when millions of ordinary white Americans confronted the greatest moral test of a generation, and failed terribly. But it is also a story of redemption, over long decades, for a special few whose willingness to reconsider the past, and their own role in its errors and terrors, could be a model for Americans in the troubled times we face today.”—Douglas A. Blackmon, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery By Another Name
“Among the most amazing aspects of this stunningly dramatic, cinematic, and vividly told tale is that it’s virtually unknown! An interracial commune founded upon principles of justice and brotherly love in the 1940s? In a rural Georgia county? As the massive resistance to civil rights heated up and the Ku Klux Klan pursued vigilante justice, the small community fell victim to slander, social isolation, boycotts, and violence. Jim Auchmutey brilliantly portrays a handful of brave social pioneers once despised by their neighbors, but lately offered friendship and pleas for forgiveness.”—Melissa Fay Greene, author of Praying For Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing