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

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  244 ratings  ·  61 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Shawn 🦛
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
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent true story about race relations in the South
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Richard Brand
Aug 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was much engaged by this book. I graduated from college in 65 so that many of these events were happening. I had a copy of the Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament and knew about the Koinonia. I found myself experiencing the sadness and frustration of those years as I read this story of the amazing witness to the Scriptures and especially the courage of Greg. That it took 40 years for the witness to bear fruit demonstrated the prophecy of Clarence when he said it was like watching an egg ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book tells the little-known story of a Christian commune near Americus, Georgia. One of the primary beliefs of this community is the equality of the races. As a result, they were victims of many attack by white supremacists during the Civil Rights Movement. The incidents in Americus in the 1960s were much like those in Selma, Alabama. Many important people are included in this book including Jimmy Carter, John Lewis, and Millard Fuller (founder of Habitat for Humanity). This book reads like ...more
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I could not put it down. A true story of a pacifist young man, Greg Wittkamper, who grew up in Americus, Georgia.
He was trained to be non-violent.....and to not discriminate against anyone. Including black people.
In rascist Georgia that was the biggest sin.
This guy displayed a helluva courage trait for his time. But he also showed how forgiving the human person can be to his fellow man.
I shouldn't be surprised at how bigoted people of the south at this particular time could be. But here it co
I checked out this book because I enjoy reading about the 1960s and the many social issues of the decade. This book started out great, and had an excellent discussion about race relations in the 1960s. It leaves one a lot to ponder regarding civil rights in the United States (which I believe will always be an ongoing issue in this nation). The book became less interesting toward the end, but I still highly recommend this book to any history-lover.
Nov 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
A heart wrenching story of a community (and a young man specifically) outside Americus, Georgia trying to live out their faith in the Jim Crow south in the 1950s and 60s. I particularly loved the stories at the end of the book of how people came to realize they were wrong in their attitudes and actions and the lessons we should learn for our interactions with all people today. A must read for everyone who lives in Georgia!
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot on the way. The author did an outstanding job thoroughly researching the community of Kononia and provided a wealth of knowledge of the history of Sumter County, GA. The story of Greg Whitttkamper's childhood experience and true reconciliation is brought to life. Not sure how I lived in the state of Georgia for 40 years and not had any idea of the rich history I found in this book. Very good read!
Jan 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and inspiring story of the Americus High School class of '65. The story centers on a young man living on a local Christian commune, which is integrated at a time that such a thing was divisive in the South. He is ostracized and tormented in high school, but years later, many of his classmates reach out to him in search of reconciliation. Auchmutey is a wonderful storyteller, always drawing you forward and giving you a sense of who these people are.
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Jim Auchmutey is author of the new book "Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America," the companion volume to the Barbecue Nation exhibition he helped curate at the Atlanta History Center. An Atlanta native, he was an editor and reporter at 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 Ne ...more

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