Richard Hyatt

Richard Hyatt: A journey of forgiveness

Jim Auchmutey set out to write a book about one man's journey to forgiveness, but "The Class of '65" is truly the story of how one generation discovered its soul.

It is the story of Greg Wittkamper, a most unlikely member of the Americus High School Class of 1965, who had to wait 40 years to find acceptance.

Wittkamper wasn't a typical Sumter County kid. He was reared at Koinonia, a commune of misfits on Ga. Highway 49 founded in 1942 by Clarence Jordan, a controversial Baptist preacher from Talbot County.

When four black young people broke the racial barrier at the high school, Wittkamper arrived with them that morning in a limo owned by an African-American funeral home.

The black students had special protection. Wittkamper didn't, and classmates viewed this son of a preacher man as "a toxic carrier of abhorrent beliefs."

Koinonia was a haven for pacifists and a training ground for civil rights activists. Many people in the community saw it as a threat to the way they were raised.

Wittkamper's family had been living there 12 years when he started to high school, but the book really begins 40 years after that when he began to receive warm, embracing letters from classmates that first rejected him.

They jeered him. They spat on him, ripped his books, tripped on the stairs and urinated in his locker. A couple of guys even hit him in the face. He remembered them, all right, and now those same people were asking for forgiveness and inviting him to join them at a class reunion.

Classmate David Morgan never participated in those actions. He just watched. "All I can do is say I am sorry," he wrote. "I hope that the hatred and hardship you endured at our hands has made you stronger and more resolute in your character and faith God bless you for your pacifist courage, and God forgive me for participating in your torment."

Auchmutey, a former reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, takes readers to that reunion and beautifully describes the conflictive feelings that were present. He will discuss the book and the events of the past with Wittkamper and many of his classmates at the Lake Blackshear Library in Americus Thursday at 5 p.m.

For all of them, it is the end of an interesting journey.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent.Reach him at