In 2015, Sweetums and I visited Monroeville, Alabama, for the launch of “Go Set a Watchman,” the long-secret manuscript by Harper Lee that tells the iconic story of “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the viewpoint of an adult Scout. It is thought to have been Lee’s first attempt at the novel but it was eventually rewritten as a story told from the viewpoint of a precocious child. At the time, some people said the elderly Lee, who died 6 months after the release of GSAW at the age of 89, was not cognizant when she gave permission to release the book but whatever the truth behind its publication, no one can argue the resulting controversy, which even impacted a local monument.
Atticus, played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film adaptation, was the moral center of TKAM, a lawyer who defended a wrongly accused black man, knowing it would damage his career. The monument’s inscription says, in part: “The legal profession has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who knows how to use power and advantage for moral purposes, and who is willing to stand alone as the conscience of the community.” However, in GSAW, Finch is portrayed as a segregationist, a lawyer who does his moral duty by defending a black man but whose general views are influenced by racist beliefs of the time.
A small protest was held on the courthouse lawn in July 2015 by people who felt GSAW changed the meaning of the monument. They demanded its removal. Click here to read a full account.
Lee painted Finch a hero in TKAM, but GSAW made him a flawed human. Both versions are fictional. What do you think of the monument? Read the full text on the plaque below.
Sweetums and I loved another TKAM monument on the courthouse lawn: A bronze sculpture that serves as a tribute to Lee, Monroeville’s most famous writer, as well as to reading as a family pastime. The sculpture of three children gathered around a bench reading a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was created by Birmingham artist Branko Medenica and installed in 2014.
Text of the Atticus Finch monument
ATTICUS FINCH: LAWYER – HERO,
“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” These words of Charles Lamb are the epigraph to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel about childhood and about a great and noble lawyer, Atticus Finch. The legal profession has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who knows how to see and to tell the truth, knowing the price the community, which Atticus loves, will pay for that truth. The legal profession has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who knows how to use power and advantage for moral purposes, and who is willing to stand alone as the conscience of the community. The legal community has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who possesses the knowledge and experience of a man, strengthened by untainted insight of a child.
Children are the original and universal people of the world; it is only when they are educated into hatreds and depravities that children become the bigots, the cynics, the greedy, and the intolerant, and it is then that “there hath passed away a glory from the earth.” Atticus Finch challenges the legal profession to shift the paradigm and make the child the father of the man in dealing with the basic conflicts and struggles that permeate moral existence.
Symbolically, it is the legal profession that now sits in the jury box as Atticus Finch concludes his argument to the jury; “In the name of God, do your duty.”