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The Class of '65: A Student, a Divided Town, and the Long Road to Forgiveness

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  204 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Being a student at Americus High School in 1964 was the worst experience of Greg Wittkamper’s life. A member of a nearby Christian commune, Koinonia, Greg was publicly and devoutly in favor of racial integration and harmony. Koinonia’s farm goods were boycotted by businesses for miles around, and they were targeted and attacked with bombs and gunfire by the Ku Klux Klan.

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 31st 2015 by PublicAffairs
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Cathy Bryant
Mar 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The class of '65 is an extremely good book - it's also an important one. I'd like to see it on school syllabuses, discussed in forums and made into the sort of movie that garners a hatful of Oscars.
I don't read a lot of nonfiction. So often the genre seems to be divided between badly-written hyperbolic puffery and the dryest of academic pedantry. Jim Auchmutey does an outstanding job here, however - he packs in the facts, details and observations, giving references, but also never loses sight of
Lena Irish
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book gave an honest account of what living on Koinonia Farm was like. Since my employment at Habitat for Humanity International, we are required as new employees to learn about the history of its beginnings. This book gives the history that is honest, but not so pretty or endearing to read about. I love how he brought it full circle to let us know what Greg's classmates are up to today, and I especially enjoyed reading about Robertiena Walker's accomplishments. This was a great read and I h ...more
William VanDerKloot
A true story that touches the heart

Extremely well researched look at the civil rights era of the 1960s as it roiled a small southern town. In this book the political is very personal. It's alternately heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time.
Lisa Scheppmann
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Some great history lessons in this book. It did drag in parts though. Also, for the record I started this book a week ago. I would give this 3.5 stars.
Dan Durning
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
As a member of the Class of '65 (in an Arkansas high school) and a former resident of Georgia (1989-2007), I decided to read this non-fiction book when I ran across it in a bookstore. It tells the story of a Greg Whitkamper, whose high school experience in Americus, Georgia, was abominable. In reading his story, we get interesting chunks of history of the Christian farming commune, Koinonia, located near Americus and the integration of Americus' high school. Whitkamper, who is white, was persecu ...more
Tracy Thompson
May 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When you say "Southern history," people think either "Civil War" or "civil rights." In fact, there's a fascinating and distinguished history of social activism in Southern history, and the story of south Georgia's Koinonia Farm ranks up there with the Highlander Folk School as an incubator of the civil rights movement. I've known Jim Auchmutey since we were college classmates, so I knew he was a superb writer. He makes this story of a white kid from Koinonia who chose to stand with black kids on ...more
Trey Shipp
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book reads with a suspenseful intensity that makes it impossible to put down. It begins with the founding of a pacifist, Christian commune in southwest Georgia named Koinonia (Greek for fellowship). But as their views of racial equality become known, local racists dynamite their market, try to kill their founder and shoot at their children playing outside. The story escalates into the heart of the civil rights struggle; a story that is not as well known as Selma, though it should be. King, ...more
Sep 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is a fascinating story of racism in the south that's ultimately incomplete. It tells the story of the Christian community, Koinonia, and the end of segregation at Americus High School in Georgia. It focuses on white student Greg Wittkamper as he struggles with the fallout of Koinonia's support of the civil rights movement. It's a powerful story. But it's only a road to forgiveness for the white community. Spoiler Alert: While Greg gets an apology from the students who persecuted him, the bl ...more
Jul 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all readers, particularly those with Georgia roots
Recommended to Brent by: this fine author and Atlanta-Fulton Public Library
Former AJC journalist Jim Auchmutey does real justice to this great Georgia story.
The story of Greg Wittkamper and his generation resonates. In fact, the Georgia Center for the Book just included this fine book on its annual list, Books all Georgians Should Read for 2016. I will say it is also a page turner.
Highest recommendation.
Jim Barber
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Having grown up in Georgia -- South Georgia no less -- I'm amazed to have never heard of the Koinonia community in Sumter County. Koinonia was a pacifist, religious community that made a farm near Americus their home beginning in 1942. They favored integration of schools and life long before the Supreme Court overturned segregated schools. This is the story of what they endured -- bombings, beatings and boycotts, just to name a few things. Essentially, the story is built around a young man named ...more
Nancy Groves
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the kind of book that restores at least a little of one's faith in humanity. This nonfictional account follows a young man who was raised in the 1950s and 60s in a Christian commune in South Georgia. The group's pacifism and communal lifestyle puzzled local residents, but even worse was their view of racial equality. When the local schools were integrated in the mid-60s, black and white students from the commune were bullied and abused, and many left the school, unable to withstand the d ...more
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“God bless you for you pacifist courage, and God forgive me for participating in your torment.”

These words came a little more than 40 years after Greg Wittkamper exited Americus High School for the last time, penned by a classmate seeking forgiveness. Greg grew up on Koinonia Farm, a bi-racial communal experiment in Christian living much misunderstood by its southwest Georgia neighbors. Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and editor Jim Auchmutey has crafted a well-written look back on
Allen Madding
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The single worst experience of Greg Wittkamper's life was attending Americus High School in the 1960s. Because he lived with is family on Koinonia Christian commune, he was shunned by the entire student body, labeled a communist, besten, bullied, and maligned for supporting racial equality. At graduation he received boos and cat calls. While his classmates celebrated after graduation, he was greeted with a barrage of hurled bricks and bottles. He immediately left Georgia with no intent of ever r ...more
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was in the Class of '64 of the same school and this book was hard for me to read because I was one of those who stood by and did nothing. In reading this book, I learned much about what went on in our town and school during this period of time that I did not know. I was sheltered from most of it by my parents and too interested in sports and girls to keep up with local politics and racial tensions. I worked at a camp all summer during the summers when most of the events away from the school oc ...more
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tough book to read! It was set during an extremely turbulent time in the South when desegregation was first mandated. I applaud the black pioneers and the minority whites who pushed the window and/or were supportive and empathetic to that cause. I also applaud the classmates who apologized years later. There was some redemption at the end... but was it enough? was it sincere? Should Greg forgive his classmates?
Mark C. Kelly
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It is eye-opening to read a history of your hometown, and of your high school, and realize there was an ugly chapter no one ever told you. I graduated only 22 years after the events in the book happened, but these things seem like something from ancient history. It's an excellent book, and while I'm sad for the things that happened in the 1960s, I'm proud to say the class of 1987 recently held a reunion where everyone was glad to see each other and everyone was treated like family.
Jennifer Hornbuckle
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent telling of a very painful, but hopeful story. There are many stories inside this one, and there are many from our painful past as Americans and citizens of the world that we need to hear.
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing. Just amazing. The subject matter was so compelling that, as we say a lot in the newspaper business, the story wrote itself. But Auchmutey really drove it home.
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the historic aspect of the novel. It gave me an new insight into Americus, GA. I loved the author’s ease of dialogue & the way he wove the story with the characters.
Margaret Ryther
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This untold story of the civil rights era is an inspiring read for high school students, parents, educators, and speakers – anyone who will relish a remarkable tale of “turning the other cheek.” The story elicits hope that although the brain may not be fully developed until age 25, it is possible for a teenager to resist impulse and create a reasoned strategy for coping with bullying and peer pressure. “The Class of ’65” is a perfect book for required summer reading for high school students. Not ...more
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is not your typical Civil Rights story. Told from the perspective of an ostracized white guy in South Georgia it weaves together the founding of a religious commune, illegalization of segregation and long overdue atonement. We were so fortunate to have the author, Jim Auchmutey, at our meeting this month to share his relationship with Greg Wittkamper, the ostracized white guy. What a treat to have him talk to us about his experience as an AJC writer where he reported on Koinonia, Jimmy Cart ...more
Horse N.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
This book had so much personal significance for me. First, I borrowed it from the brother of one of the black men who was chosen to integrate the school, Dobbs Wiggins. His brother Graham is a close personal friend of my family. I love him and his wife from the bottom of my heart. The copy of the book i'm reading is inscribed from Greg Wittkamper to Dobbs Wiggins. So I really have a reason to put myself in Greg's shoes.

Second, I've lived in Georgia since I was 8. I've been to many of the places
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: justice-racism
Whew! This book gives a touching and harrowing account of growing up in the South in the 1950s and 60s. More importantly, it provides a glimpse into the Southern culture of the times. Individual white people may have been goodhearted or likable, but ugly racism permeated everything. Greg's life was bound up in the civil rights movement, so the book is a chronicle of one corner of that also. The story is one everyone should know, including younger people who may think it's ancient history. It's n ...more
It is a wonderful thing to read a book and learn about the world and expand your mind. Too many people prefer to stay where things and ideas are comfortable - physically and psychically.
And in a way, this book illustrates that. How these young men and women grew up in such a volatile period in America's history - not to mention in the South which was ground zero for racial tensions. But a lot of them experienced growth and understanding. Some of us grow up, some don't. That Greg Wittkamper stoo
May 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I gave this book 5 stars because it brings the civil rights era to a very personal level showing the impact of bigotry in a way that, being white, I've read about but can not experience.
This is the true story of Greg Wittkamper, who lived grew up in the Christine commune of Koinonia in Georgia. Greg, who is white, supported the black students who integrated his high school, riding to school with them on the first day.

The Koinonia community, where Greg lived, was integrated from its beginnings
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well written. Difficult to understand how this could have happened without intervention from the "good" people in the community. Greg Wittkamper deserves recognition for all that he endured and how he adhered to his principles.
David A-S
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Class of '65 details the struggles of the children of the Koinonia community of Southwest Georgia. This intentional Christian community was founded on shared resources, passivist intentions, and racial equality. It is famous for its founder Clarence Jordan, who was active in civil rights, wrote the Cotton Patch Gospel, and later teamed up with Millard Fillmore (Habitat for Humanity). All this while being persecuted by their white neighbors. This is the known history, what this book details i ...more
Kristen Lund
Jul 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'm so happy to have been given this book. It's an important slice of civil rights history and a compelling story of one young white boy/man who suffered extreme mistreatment for his and his families' support of African-American civil rights workers and school integration in the segregated south. The tale includes the founding and history of the Koinonia Community, an idealistic commune of pacifists in Americus, Georgia, with which I was already familiar. The book ends with reconciliation betwee ...more
Jul 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio-books
This is a book every American should read. This is not just about Greg Wittkamper, his experience at Americus High or Koinonia Farm. It is a book about the Civil Rights Movement in America and the brave men and women who stood up for their beliefs. It is also a book about healing a rift between cultures. This book was dry at times and often read like a history book, but it is so much more. I am in awe of the brave men and women who fought for justice and equality at a time when there was very li ...more
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Jim Auchmutey is a journalist in Atlanta who wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years, specializing in stories about the South and its history and culture. He was twice named the Cox Newspaper chain's Writer of the Year and was honored by the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, the Associated Press and the Sigma Delta Chi journalism society. He has also written extensively a ...more