Born in Augusta in 1916 to racially mixed parents, Yerby, all his life, had trouble being accepted in either black or white society. But he sought education, earning a masters from Fisk University. He taught college, then took a job at the Ford Motor Company in Michigan, leaving him spare time to write.
The theme of alienation ran throughout his work, beginning with his award-winning short story “Health Card,” published in 1944. Yerby turned to historical fiction and struck best-selling gold in 1947 with The Foxes of Harrow, which sold over 2 million copies and was adapted for the silver screen, a first for an African-American author.
Yerby’s critics charged that he ignored racial themes in his work for commercial success, but it was racism that led him to self-imposed exile in Spain. He published 33 novels before his death there on November 29, 1991, Today in Georgia History.
Yerby's books combined sold more than 55 million copies.