This Week In Southern History: July 11, 1960 - To Kill a Mockingbird is Published
This week in southern history, we go all the way back to July 11, 1960, and here’s what the world looked like then!:
The lunch counter at a Greensboro Woolworth’s becomes the center of controversy when four Black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University stage a sit-in to protest segregation. In the event that there are any right-wing fundamentalists reading this story, THAT is what persecution ACTUALLY looks like. Just thought you’d wanna know since you seem to be confused on the subject:)
The United States announced that troops would be sent to Vietnam, effectively “Canceling” the lives of 3,500 young men across the country. If only they had been more accepting of those with bone spurs.
Ben-Hur would dominate the 32nd Academy Awards by winning a record number of Oscars, among them best picture. They did not, however, repeat this the following year after its sequel Ben-Hur Done That, failed to impress both moviegoers and critics. A real slap in the (black)face for Hugh Griffith.
Down south, the groundwork for another Best Picture Oscar had been laid when Mornoeville Alabama’s own Harper Lee published her masterpiece To Kill a Mockinbird.
To say that Harper’s first novel is a classic does not in itself do the book justice. It would be like saying that Micahel Jordan was a wonderful basketball player or that Rowdy Roddy Piper was a great talker. Those are, of course, true descriptions, but they leave alot to be desired. Something that cannot be said of To Kill a Mockingbird.
This book and it’s author are some of the key examples I usually lead with when I am having to once again defend where I come from to some Yankee who is trying to put it down. You know the type..with their nose either up in the air, or up in their ass. They say things like “all the south has given us is bigotry and backwoods politics!” as if Mark Twain doesn't exist. As if William Faulkner, Dolly Parton, and Tennessee Williams were northern transplants. As if a 34 year old Alabama woman hadn’t written the seminal book on the consequences of being prejudice. I guess a Yankee could never have done that because we all know that the Mason-Dixon line is a magical force-field that holds in all the racism.
The Novel takes place in Maycomb, Alabama in the year of our lord nineteen and thirty three. A widower named Atticus Finch is trying his best to raise his daughter Scout, and his son Jem. The two kids befriend a little boy named Dill who is new in town, and together they play in the hot southern sun and sneak around trying to spy on their hermit-like neighbor. A feller by the name of Boo Radley. The book gets it’s name from their father Atticus telling them never to shoot a Mockinbird with their BB Gun because “the mockingbird only exists to sing beautiful songs. (in my experience they also shit on mailboxes, but that’s neither here nor there)
The kid’s are harmless scoundrals and enjoy a typical Alabama adolescence until their father, Atticus (who is a lawyer) takes on a career, and life-defining case defending a black man who was accused of raping a white woman. If you’ve read much about the history of the south during this time, it’s almost unbelievable that this would even make it to trial. If you think that people nowadays take that “Good guy with a gun” mentality a little too serious, 1933 Alabama would’ve made you shit your skinny jeans.
This thought of mine is, of course, represented in the book as Tom Robinson (the accused rapist) is nearly lynched a day before the trial. The trial begins and, I’m not going to lie to you… Atticus’s defense strategy is… sorta rought to read lol. He obviously argues that the woman’s accusation is false, as would any defense lawyer worth a damn, but he went further in saying that Mayella Ewell probably tried to seduce Tom because he was “the only person to show her kindness” In other words “why would anyone rape that piece of garbage?” Woof. It’s also infered that Mayella Ewell's daddy beat the shit out of her on more than one occasion, and more than likely sexually abused her while she was a little girl. I am only now realizing how wild it is that we read this book in 8th grade. Important, but wild!
As you can imagine, strong evidence that the prosecution was lying didn’t really mean jack-shit to an all white Alabama jury looking to sentence a black man to death, and they did just that. Atticus tries to get it overturned, but Tom, being a black man from the south with a functioning brain, knows that this is most likely a fool’s errand and decides that his only chance is to escape jail. He does… briefly, and then of course is shot for doing so.
Meanwhile that child molesting Daddy gets pretty fired up that Atticus had made him look like the dumb dumb he is in court, and set out on a mission to get revenge. Of course he didn’t go straight for Atticus, he did what he does best and attacked the children. If it wasn’t for her Halloween costume, Scout would have been stabbed to death. Yadda yadda yadda the tables turn and it is actually the child molesting sumbitch that gets stabbed to death… finally some justice in this here book!
The Sherrif runs and tells Atticus that the sumbitch is dead, but not to worry because he was just going to claim that Mr. Ewell fell on his knife, a thing that totally happens all the time! Atticus, being a man of honor, told him no no no, we gotta let everyone know that my son stabbed him in self defense. The Sherrif then informs Atticus that it was not Jem who stabbed the dirt bag, but instead it was Boo Radley. Atticus then uttered the 1933 equivalent of “Oh shit, word?” and they decided that yeah, ok, the sumbitch fell on his own knife. Case closed.
Obviously I was trying to be funny and taking some liberties in that there summation above, but truth be told, there is just nothing I can say that really captures how important this book is, and how much it has meant to literally millions of people from around the world. The book has been translated into over 40 different languages for god’s sake.
It’s a literary classic. It’s a pulitizer prize winner.It will be as relevant in 100 years as it was when it was written. And it all came from the mind of one of us dumb southerners!
Suck on that, Delaware!
‘Corey Ryan Forrester
Audio version will be up next week, as I am walking out the door to go to the lake… wish me luck on the jet ski!