Ending the long, cruel scourge of Jim Crow segregation demanded inspiring leadership and courageous action.
Yet it also took powerful persuasion to win that fundamental struggle for fairness. And Harper Lee’s magical way with words in 1960’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” helped convince many white Southerners to finally re-evaluate the roles that they had been playing, either through silent acquiescence or active support, in perpetuating the historic shame of American apartheid.
Her extraordinary book continues to shine a bright light on the appalling injustice, lowdown meanness and utter stupidity of race-based prejudice. Ms. Lee delivers her essential messages through the eyes of a little girl named Scout, who grows so much from ages 5 to 8.
Though the author died last week at age 89 in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., the lessons of humanity that her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel teaches will live on.
Readers learn plenty between the lines, with Scout’s misadventures in Depression-era, small-town Alabama enhancing the trip with comic relief along the revealing way.
And Scout gets wise counsel — and a brave example — from her father, attorney Atticus Finch. Daring to defy the ugly attitudes of his time and place, he defends a black man victimized by a blatantly false rape charge.
Atticus falls far short of that lofty standard in Ms. Lee’s first and only other published novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” set in the 1950s and released last year.
But he will forever tower as a beacon of enlightened conscience over bigotry’s toxic depths in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
On that sweet, tender, yet transforming book’s final page, Scout awakens after being saved from terrible peril by Boo Radley, a reclusive neighbor who turns out not to be so scary after all.
Scout tells her dad, “Atticus, he was real nice.”
Atticus replies: “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
Harper Lee’s timeless treasure of American literature will keep helping people see the light.