TIME Books

How To Kill a Mockingbird Reflects the Real Civil Rights Movement

To Kill A Mockingbird
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images Actors Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson in the film 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 1962.

'Mockingbird' paralleled at least three real incidents from Harper Lee's hometown

Life Books has just released The Enduring Power of To Kill a Mockingbird, a volume exploring the lasting influence of Harper’s Lee’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, the making of the classic film with Gregory Peck, the world of Lee and her upcoming book Go Set a Watchman—as well as the issue of civil rights at the time that she was writing Mockingbird. Below is an excerpt from one of the chapters dealing with the subject of race in America:

In 1960, when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, much of white America viewed the coming together of the races as immoral, dangerous, even ungodly. A white woman would never admit to doing what the Mockingbird character Mayella Ewell does, breaking a “time-honored code” by kissing Tom Robinson, a black man. And after being caught, she seeks to save herself from the scorn of society by accusing Robinson of raping her.

Such an accusation was a death sentence for an African American man. “Rape was the central drama of the white psyche,” says Diane McWhorter, author of the Pulitzer prize–winning Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. “A black man raping a white woman justified the most draconian social control over black people.” The vigilante punishment for such a sin was lynching, as would have been the case with the mob of white men smelling of “whiskey and pigpen” who herd up to Maycomb’s jail to cart away Robinson. While they are stopped, in Mockingbird, because Scout Finch shames them, many real-life incidents went unchecked. Between 1882 and 1951, 3,437 blacks in the United States died that way, 299 of them in Alabama.

Harper Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lot like Scout’s father Atticus Finch, and she clearly sketched him and local events when creating the plot of Mockingbird. As with Atticus, A.C. Lee was a lawyer, and, like Scout, the young Harper recalled earlier, “I did sit in the courtroom watching my father argue cases and talk to juries.”

Mockingbird paralleled at least three cases that were objects of contention in the Monroeville of her childhood, and Lee once commented how, in her novel, “the trial, and the rape charge that brings on the trial, are made up out of a composite of such cases and charges.” Seven years before Harper’s birth (in 1926), the senior Lee defended two blacks accused of murder. At the time, “the idea that someone like Lee would represent a black is by no means abnormal or unusual, though not typical,” says Wayne Flynt, distinguished university professor emeritus at Auburn University and a friend of Harper Lee. “People like her father had grown up in churches. They were not threatened intellectually, economically or politically by blacks.” A.C. Lee’s clients were executed, and he was so overcome that he never took another criminal case.

Next: In March 1931, just before Harper turned 5 years old, a bold-headlines case gripped Alabama. A group of blacks and whites got into a fight on a train. As the police arrested the nine young blacks, they came across two white prostitutes. In order to avoid being charged with consorting with blacks, the women accused the men of rape. Tried in Scottsboro, Alabama, eight of them received death sentences. Over the next few decades the Scottsboro Boys, as they were known, became causes célèbres of the civil rights movement—their case twice advanced to the Supreme Court. It took until 2013 for the men to be exonerated.

Then, third: In November 1933, outside Monroeville, a poor white woman, Naomi Lowery, claimed that a black man, Walter Lett, had raped her. At the time A.C. Lee was editing The Monroe Journal, and his paper covered Lett’s trial. There was fear that Lett would be lynched. Many of the town’s citizens, including Lee, petitioned Alabama governor Benjamin Miller, seeking clemency, and Miller commuted Lett’s death sentence to life in prison. To say that these stories came home in the Lees’ house is to state the obvious.

Harper Lee shows signs of hoped-for change in her book. “Moral courage is really inconvenient and it rarely goes unpunished,” says McWhorter. But A.C. Lee would not be punished. Characters like the fictional Atticus Finch and real-life people throughout the South were suddenly agitating within the strictures of society, and Harper Lee was ready to join the proud parade—a parade that was very happy to have her. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., no less, would write in his book Why We Can’t Wait, about “the strength of moral force,” and how, “To the Negro in 1963, as to Atticus Finch, it had become obvious that nonviolence could symbolize the gold badge of heroism rather than the white feather of cowardice.”

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LIFE Books

LIFE’s special edition The Enduring Power of To Kill a Mockingbird is available in stores today. Digital edition available at TimeSpecials.com.


TIME Theater

Everything We Know About the Harry Potter Play

Get ready for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Muggles the world over were excited to learn that a stage play about Harry Potter will soon become a reality. But what exactly will this theatrical experience entail? Here’s everything we know about the play so far.

What is the play called?

The project’s title uses the tried and true formula of all of the novels: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

What’s it about?

J.K. Rowling was reticent about sharing too many details in her Twitter announcement. She described the play as a “new story,” and previous reports have speculated that it might be about Harry’s early years or the adventures of his parents, Lily and James. Rowling, however, says the play is “not a prequel.” She said she will keep tight-lipped about further details for now.

Why a play instead of another novel?

Rowling says she is “confident that when audiences see the play they will agree that it was the only proper medium for the story.”

Did she write the script herself?

She says it is “the result of a collaboration between writer Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany and myself.” It seems that Rowling and Thorne worked together on the story, and Thorne wrote the actual script.

Is it a musical?

It doesn’t seem to be a musical based on reports so far; however, there will be music of some kind, courtesy of Imogen Heap.

Where will it run?

The show will be performed in London at the Palace Theatre.

When does it open?

Summer 2016.

When can I buy tickets??

Sometime this fall—more details will be found on the show’s website in late July.

TIME psychology

How Warren Buffett Keeps Up With Information

Warren Buffett in an interview on May 4, 2015.
Lacy O'Toole—CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Warren Buffett in an interview on May 4, 2015.

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

It's about having filters

A telling excerpt from an interview of Warren Buffett (below) on the value of reading. Seems like he’s taking the opposite approach to Nassim Taleb in some ways.

Interviewer: How do you keep up with all the media and information that goes on in our crazy world and in your world of Berkshire Hathaway? What’s your media routine?

Warren Buffett: I read and read and read. I probably read five to six hours a day. I don’t read as fast now as when I was younger. But I read five daily newspapers. I read a fair number of magazines. I read 10-Ks. I read annual reports. I read a lot of other things, too. I’ve always enjoyed reading. I love reading biographies, for example.

Interviewer: You process information very quickly.

Warren Buffett: I have filters in my mind. If somebody calls me about an investment in a business or an investment in securities, I usually know in two or three minutes whether I have an interest. I don’t waste any time with the ones which I don’t have an interest.

I always worry a little bit about even appearing rude because I can tell very, very, very quickly whether it’s going to be something that will lead to something, or whether it’s a half an hour or an hour or two hours of chatter.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Had the Best Response to a Harry Potter Fan Who Is Fasting for Ramadan

Rowling tells a fan which book has the least amount of eating

J.K. Rowling is known for interacting with fans (and foes) on Twitter, but this Thursday the author sent a particularly sweet message to a fan who was fasting for Ramadan.

Mujtaba Alvi, a 21-year-old from Toronto on break from school, was rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when he tweeted at Rowling, telling her that the descriptions of food in the fifth Harry Potter book were hard to take while fasting. During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, those who follow the faith abstain from all beverages and food from dawn until sunset.

To his surprise, Rowling tweeted him back with a helpful tip, suggesting that he read the seventh book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, next.

In that book, young wizards Harry, Ron and Hermione are often forced to go without food.

Alvi, who calls himself a “true Potterhead,” told TIME that seeing Rowling’s response was “surreal.” Plus, Thursday was his birthday—Rowling’s tweet, he said, was the “greatest gift ever.”

Alvi told TIME he probably will take Rowling up on her suggestion to read Deathly Hollows next. “JK Rowling told me to,” he said via Twitter direct message.

That should be an easy assignment for the Potter fan, who said he’s read the books “multiple times.”

H/t BuzzFeed.


TIME Books

Read TIME’s Original Book Review for Anne Frank’s Diary

Anne Frank (1929-1945).
Heritage Images / Getty Images Anne Frank (1929-1945)

The diary was first published in the Netherlands on June 25, 1947

When the diary of Anne Frank was first published in English, as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, a full decade had passed since a young Anne received the fateful journal for her 13th birthday. Five years had passed since the diary had been published in the Netherlands—on this day, June 25, in 1947, as Het Achterhuis—and more than dozen had passed since its author stopped writing down her days.

And yet, despite the passage of time, her story was something new, a different way of understanding the horrors of the Holocaust. “The resulting diary is one of the most moving stories that anyone, anywhere, has managed to tell about World War II,” as TIME’s book reviewer put it, describing the diarist’s experiences:

As the war dragged on and news trickled in of mass deportations of Jews, Anne became desperate. She had terrifying fantasies about the death of Jewish friends. Often she saw “rows of good, innocent people accompanied by crying children [walk] on and on . . . bullied and knocked about until they almost drop.” With appalling prescience she wrote that “there is nothing we can do but wait as calmly as we can till the misery comes to an end. Jews and Christians wait, the whole earth waits; and there are many who wait for death.” When her pen fell into the fire, she wrote that it “has been cremated.”

Though not much interested in politics, Anne tried to understand what was happening to the world. “I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war,” she wrote. “Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged …”

But sometimes she cried out from the heart, as if for all the Jews of Europe: “Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up to now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again.”

Many more decades have passed by now—this year marks the 70th anniversary of Anne Frank’s death at Bergen-Belsen—and her father’s decision to execute her wish to have her diary published continues to prove significant. According to the Anne Frank House, it has since been published in 70 languages.

Read the full review, here in the TIME Vault: Lost Child

TIME Books

Here Are the 5 Most Popular To Kill a Mockingbird Quotes

to kill a mocking bird
Harper Collins The classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

On Amazon's Kindle e-readers

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s highly anticipated follow-up to 1960’s To Kill a Mockingbird, has stirred debate over whether the 89-year-old Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007, was mentally competent enough to agree to the book’s release; the state of Alabama confirmed that she was. The book is set about 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird (which took place in the 1930s), and features many of the same characters, including, of course, Scout Finch and her father Atticus.

In the lead-up to the publication of the new book, Amazon has released the passages in To Kill a Mockingbird that are most frequently highlighted on Kindle e-readers. Go Set a Watchman will be released on July 14.

  1. “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
  2. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
  3. “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
  4. “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
  5. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—” “Sir?” “—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

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