Novelist Harper Lee has died at the age of 89. Lee won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
To Kill a Mockingbird essentially awakened a nation to racial inequities in our nation and has been used for more than a half century to teach tolerance and social justice issues in schools nation-wide.
Harper Lee was born and raised in Monroeville, Mississippi. One has to consider how brave it was to undertake such a venture as Mockingbird. The novel and subsequent movie dealt with all the Southern taboos–race, rape, poor whites, mental illness, lynch mobs, generational poverty, and Anytown, Southern, USA.
Not all kids got to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I lived in a fairly progressive area of Atlanta when the book and movie both came out. I never read it nor saw it playing in neighborhood movie theaters. I sure knew when Gone with the Wind came to town, however. When I came back to Charlottesville, the book was not on my required reading list or even the supplementary list. I assume now the book was banned.
Ms. Lee tapped into the conscience of a nation like no other novel since Uncle Tom’s cabin. The difference between Lee and Harriet Beecher Stowe is great. Lee actually grew up in the region where Mockingbird takes place. She saw and learned as a child. Stowe’s novel relied on her imagination.
Rest in Peace, Harper Lee. May your mockingbirds live on and in the hearts of all of us who have read your novel. You are a once in a life-time national treasure.