The Source: 40 Years Later, School Seeks Reconciliation
1965 was a year of racial division. These lines were especially clear in public schools, where attempted integration was met with bullying and resistance from white students.
Greg Wittkamper personally experienced this bullying, although he was not the usual victim. Despite being white, Wittkamper became a target in addition to his school’s new black students. The teenager was a member of Christian community, Koinonia, that taught racial equality—a value rare in Georgia at the time. Because he stood up for his black classmates, Wittkamper also was abused by his peers. Torments included physical violence and harassment. Even so, Wittkamper never retaliated or changed stances. Koinonia was familiar such aggression. Other members of the community were also targeted, even outside of school walls. Adults joined students in attacking Koinonians, as well as their commune, with dynamite, guns, brass knuckles, fire, and burning crosses.
Instead of focusing on the white oppressors, Jim Auchmutey’s book The Class of ’65 explores the story of the civil rights supporters and the students’ change of heart. Though racially-charged violence was once standard, many tormentors have now apologized. Wittkamper’s classmates specifically reached out to him forty years later, apologizing for their actions in a letter. Formerly ostracized, Wittkamper was invited to a class reunion. Other black students have also been approached and invited to speak at school events.
While the past cannot change, the book describes the class’s attempts at reconciliation, a school overcoming prejudice, and Wittkamper’s own bravery.
- Jim Auchmutey, journalist and author of The Class of '65