Sometimes there is a pain in your heart that subsides over time but never ever goes away. On my walk today I was thinking about Nelle Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and her chosen seclusion for the last 50 years.
I”ve imagined Ms. Lee as a svelte Southern belle occasionally coming to the Monroeville, Ala., florist shop where, it is said, she will autograph a book and return it to you by mail. Her biography indicates that she is anything but the woman I imagined.
In my moment of epiphany, I concluded that perhaps her reclusiveness was a matter of survival. My thoughts ran quickly to the Starkville Public Library. John Grisham and Starkvillian Jenny Reed were sitting at a table where about four patrons perused Grisham”s first book, “A Time to Kill.” At that time he hawked books from the trunk of his car. Jenny Reed was a book reviewer for the Starkville Daily News.
Jenny had returned home that night after the pitiful book signing, when the phone rang. Thinking it was her husband, she answered the phone, but it was an anonymous caller enraged and threatening about her book review. The caller said that her son had been killed by a black man and Jenny couldn”t possibly understand.
If such a call could happen to a book reviewer in 1993, I can only imagine what could happen to a svelte Southern belle author in 1960.
I have often wondered the kind of person I”d be if I had been an adult in 1960. The question haunts me because I know the blood that courses in my veins. I”d like to think I”d be welcoming at the segregated lunch counter and offer the front door of hospitality to any and everyone but …
I have a retired teacher friend who was an adult in the ”60s, and when I describe who I hope I would have been she chastises me mightily.
“You can ride that high horse of yours when it doesn”t cost you (blank) to do so. But let it cost you food on your table and then say what you”d do and not do!” She makes me cry.
She tells me about the Presbyterian minister”s wife, also a teacher, who walked with the Freedom Riders. The next day she was called to the office and fired. I looked at my friend in horror and said, “What did they say? Did they make up some reason?”
She said, “They said, ”You”re fired!””
At a book talk, “The Return of Gabriel,” I sat next to Judge Bernard Crump and his lovely wife. The book describes a small Southern town in 1964 that “begins to crackle with tension.” At the end of the talk I dissolved in tears and apologized to the Crumps for my part in the human race. Judge Crump is about the most honorable, kind, forgiving, gracious man I have ever known. I happen to know that Judge Crump has overcome his own exclusions with incredible dignity and resolve.
Some people tell me that I can”t apologize for what I didn”t do but … I just did.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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