Harper Lee’s enduring story of justice and race
The nation is mourning the death of Harper Lee, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning story of justice and race made an indelible mark on American culture. “To Kill a Mockingbird” leaves a lasting impression on the legal profession and remains as relevant today as when it was published in 1960.
Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout, inspired generations of lawyers to enter the legal profession. They have even influenced the practice of law. Thomson Reuters Westlaw data reveals that at least 60 cases include quotes from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
For example, in State v. Riley (1999), a judge’s concurring opinion notes: “We would most likely agree with Atticus Finch’s advice to his precocious, six-year-old daughter, Scout: ‘[Y]ou just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.’ Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird 80 (1960). Modern society does not condone violent responses to mere language. As we said in State v. Mierz, 127 Wash.2d 460, 482, 901 P.2d 286, 50 A.L.R.5th 921 (1955): ‘It is a wise course, and the hallmark of our civilization, that the rule of law should prevail over needless confrontation.’ ”
The novel’s centerpiece was the trial of Tom Robinson, an African-American man wrongly accused of raping a white woman, in Alabama in the 1930s. The book’s exploration of issues of race, injustice and intolerance resonates today in a country still confronting civil rights issues.
As The Economist explained, “In many ways, America is still feeling the influence of Lee’s novel today – in the national conversation about criminal justice, the “Black Lives Matter” movement, even President Barack Obama’s recent prison reforms.”
Another testament to the relevance of the novel is its upcoming Broadway run. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is adapting the novel into a play, slated for a Broadway debut in the 2017-18 season. The Academy Award-winning film adaption in 1962 was ranked by the ABA Journal among the most important and influential legal movies ever released.
Ms. Lee has shaped and inspired generations of readers, and the Broadway version will reinvent “To Kill a Mockingbird” for new audiences. Her legacy and the lessons of her literary icons will endure for decades to come.