How To Kill a Mockingbird Reflects the Real Civil Rights Movement

by Rachel Baker on June 27, 2015

Below is a chapter excerpt of The Enduring Power of To Kill a Mockingbird, Life Books. This book takes a look at the lasting effects of Harper Lee’s book novel, the making of the film and the world Lee lived in, and how the issue of civil rights affected the stories she wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird and the upcoming Go Set a Watchman.

Read More: How To Kill a Mockingbird Reflects the Real Civil Rights Movement.

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.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter; or you can follow her at The Crafty Veteran on Bloglovin. You can also follow her writing about women veteran interests at Shield Sisters

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