An African-American with a best-selling novel — a book that was turned into a movie — that was unheard of in the America of the late 1940s. Yet Frank Yerby did just that.
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.