Bookends: Harper Lee, A Mockingbird & A Watchman

 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, 
and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:8untitled1Chances are, if you ask ten people if they have heard of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird,  more than likely, all ten will have some knowledge of the Pulitzer Prize winning-best seller written by Harper Lee.  As a young teen who loved to read, I was completely captivated with the compelling novel of racial prejudice in a small Southern city!  With the highly anticipated release of Lee’s new book, “Go Set a Watchman“, I recently spent a few hours in Monroeville, Alabama, Lee’s hometown and the setting of one of the world’s best loved novels!  Katy and I so enjoyed our visit to the Old Courthouse Museum, where the setting of To Kill A Mockingbird really came to life and piqued my interest once again for Lee’s writings.  Go Set A Watchman is set to hit bookstores on July 14!  I hope you will come along as we tour the literary capital of Alabama, my home state!

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for”
               Judge Taylor, To Kill a Mockingbird
 The Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama was completed in 1904 and now houses the Old Courthouse Museum.  Harper Lee and her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, brought instant fame to her small Alabama town of Monroeville.  Even though the movie was not filmed in Monroeville, fans of the classic novel come to see the courthouse because it is the most tangible connection to the book’s fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama!  The set designer came to Monroeville to photograph the court room before recreating it on a Hollywood sound stage!  Restored to its 1930’s appearance, the courtroom is the model for Lee’s fictional courtroom settings in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The movie starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.  The film won three academy awards, including Best Actor for Peck, and was nominated for eight, including Best Picture.  The film is widely considered to be one of the greatest ever made.  The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century! In 1963, county offices moved to a new building on the square, and the community started looking at preserving the old courthouse with the idea of starting a museum!  A small museum opened in 1968 with a full time museum opening in 1991.  Renovation of the building also began in 1991 at a cost of $2.5 million. The museum houses two permanent exhibits:  Truman Capote:  A Childhood in Monroeville, and Harper Lee:  In Her Own Words.  Harper Lee was born April 28, 1926 in Monroeville.  As a child, she was an unruly tomboy.  She was bored with school.  The character of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird would have liked her!  In high school, Lee was fortunate to have a gifted English teacher who introduced her to the rigors of writing well.
 Lee loved nineteenth century British authors best, and once said that her ambition was to become “the Jane Austen of south Alabama.”  “From childhood on, I did sit in the courtroom watching my father argue cases and talk to juries” (from a 1962 interview).  He once defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper.  Both clients, a father and son, were hanged.  She attended the University of Alabama where she was editor of Rammer Jammer, a quarterly humor magazine on campus. She entered law school but loathed it and decided to pursue a writing career in New York!  She spent eight years working odd jobs before she finally showed a manuscript to an editor at J.B. Lippincott.  At this point, it still resembled a string of stories more than the novel that Lee had intended.  She spent two and a half years rewriting.  To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 to highly favorable reviews and quickly climbed the bestseller lists, where it remained for 88 weeks.  In 1961, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book has sold over thirty million copies in eighteen languages. Lee was totally unprepared for the amount of personal attention associated with writing a best-seller.  She has led a quiet and guardedly private life. As Sheriff Tate says of Boo Radley, “draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight-to me, that’s a sin.”  So it would be with Harper Lee.  From her, To Kill a Mockingbird is gift enough.h20 One of Lee’s closest childhood friends was another writer-to-be, Truman Capote, who came to live with relatives next door to the Lee’s!  It is believed that the character of Dill is based on Capote.  In the decades since Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, her novel has been shadowed by a persistent rumor.  The speculation has been that Lee’s long time friend Truman Capote either wrote or heavily edited the book.  A letter that Capote wrote his aunt dated July 9, 1959 and made public when placed on display in the Monroe County Museum clearly debunks the idea!  Nelle Harper Lee never married and has continued to live in Monroeville, Alabama. In 1999, To Kill a Mockingbird was voted best novel of the century by the Library Journal.  She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
 In February of this year, 55 years after her novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published, it was announced that the 88 year-old (now 89) would publish her second novel, Go Set a Watchman.  The book features her memorable character Scout as an adult and was written prior to the famous To Kill a Mockingbird!  When we left, we drove two blocks down to the site where Lee and Capote were neighbors.  The lot that once held Lee’s home is now “Mel’s Dairy Dream”, a local burger joint.  When we arrived and hopped out to take pictures, a local was curious as to why we were taking pictures–he had no idea the literary history of the ground he was standing on!  It was neat to talk to him about the area and tell him why we were there!   The stone fence, that separated the Lee home and the home that Capote lived in as a child, is all that remains!  Two literary giants lived next to each other as children in the small Southern town of Monroeville, Alabama.  It is quite an amazing story!

In April 1963 in my hometown, our local theater rolled out the red carpet for the two young stars of To Kill a Mockingbird.  The theater hosted a premier of the film based on the novel written by Alabama novelist Harper Lee.  Gadsden native Phillip Alford, who played the role of “Jem” and Mary Badham, who played the role of “Scout” we’re given keys to the city.  Exactly 45 years later, the two actors returned to Gadsden for a screening of the movie!

 “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”
Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

Research sources:

pam-closingLinking with Pieced PastimesSilver Pennies, Life on Lakeshore DriveThoughts From Alice, Mod Vintage Life, Coastal Charm, My Uncommon Slice of SuburbiaThe Dedicated HouseDwellings-Heart of Your HomeSavvy Southern Style, Ivy and Elephants, French Country Cottage, From My Front Porch To Yours, Stone Gable, Confessions of a Plate Addict, Worthing CourtBetween Naps on the Porch, Cedar Hill Farmhouse, A Stroll Thru Life, The Style Sisters, The Charm of Home, The Winthrop Chronicles, Cornerstone ConfessionsA Delightsome Life, Imparting GracePosed PerfectionKatherines Corner, My Romantic HomeChic On A Shoestring DecoratingRooted In Thyme, Share Your Cup, TheEnchanting Rose, Alabama Women Bloggers, 21 Rosemary Lane, Northern Nesting, Oh My Heartsie Girl,  Cozy Little House, Rattlebridge Farm, The Turquoise Home, My Flagstaff Home, In The New House, Natasha in Oz, Vintage Refined


  1. Kim says:

    Wonderful, wonderful! I savored every word of this delicious post, Pam – maybe because I’m a southern girl? We like to visit Monroeville, often when on a motorcycling day trip. The town is beautiful and feels like home. Thanks for sharing these tidbits to check out next time we’re there!

  2. Carmen says:

    This was a very interesting post. Do you know where she got the title of the book from (To Kill a Mockingbird)?

    • Susan says:

      I’m a born and raised Alabamian from E. Central Alabama.
      We always were told through the years as children that you never kill a mockingbird because they are good birds and don’t do anything wrong. It may be a Southern phrase, but I grew up with it. Atticus tells the children the same thing in the book.
      My English teachers always said that the loss of innocence of Boo, Jem, Scout, Tom and Dill was similar to that of killing a mockingbird. The good and innocence was lost as they encountered evil in the likes of Bob and Mayella Ewell and others. Thus, the phrase, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
      Hope this helps.

      • Thank you Susan for answering Carmen’s question and you are exactly right. I had not answered her yet, but you did an excellent job explaining! Do you plan on reading the new book?

      • Carmen, I am sorry I had not answered your question. Our water heater went out this morning, so I have been dealing with that today! But, thank you so much for reading and asking a very good question!

      • Carmen says:

        No problem. It has been a long time since I read the book and I enjoyed this article very much. Susan did a great job of explaining the meaning. I always enjoy hearing the mockingbirds but they sure are rowdy!

  3. Judy Pimperl says:

    It is truly a special place. A visit to the museum really brings To Kill a Mockingbird to life. I was fortunate enough to attend the entire weekend of festivities (Alabama Writers Symposium, the play, etc.) back in 2011. I had an art gallery then, and we were invited to put together the art show for the event. It was an amazing weekend that I will never forget.
    I look forward to reading the new book, as well.

    Oh, I stopped by from Coastal Charm’s party!

  4. I love touring literary sites and greatly appreciated your many photos and the quotes interspersed in your descriptions. Thanks for sharing this post because it gave a lift to my day. I saw your link at The Dedicated House’s Make it Pretty Monday party.

  5. Stephanie says:

    My dear Pam, this was such a fascinating post and so informative. I learned a lot that I did not know….thank you so much for taking the time to write such a great article :)

    And thanks for sharing with Roses of Inspiration. Hugs

  6. Diana Stevan says:

    Found you on Katherine’s Blog Hop. Loved the book, read it when I was a teenager in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It grabbed me, the injustice of it all. And of course, saw the movie, which captured the essence of Harper Lee’s magnificent tale. A great post! This is a book I hope to read again.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I read the book years and years ago, but just bought a copy last month so I could read it again. Your post has inspired me to put this one next on the list.


  8. Cyndee says:

    Very interesting. Read every word of your post! Loved this movie. Never read the book though. I will have to read her new book!! Thanks for sharing!

  9. fairhopesupplyco says:

    I also posted about the new Go Set a Watchman and can’t wait to read it! We’re having a special event at Page and Palette Bookstore in Fairhope which will be a blast. I loved the first chapter!

    • I am so sorry I am just seeing your comment! Have you read the book yet? I will go right over and see your post! I was in Fairhope in May and actually went to Page and Palette! Such a quaint little place! Their Heath Ice Rage was a perfect break from the heat! Thank you for stopping by and commenting! Blessings!

  10. Jann Olson says:

    Loved this history Pam and what a fabulous museum! I will be waiting for the release. I don’t remember even reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think it was required in high school’. Maybe I better read it and see if anything sounds familiar. lol! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  11. lelaburris says:

    I love this post so much. I have never been there before but I have seen photos posted online and I only live a few hours away. I’d love to check it out. Thanks for the great storytelling!

  12. I loved this post! I pre-ordered my copy of Watchman, so I received it on 7/14–can’t wait to dig into it! Now you’ve made me want to visit Monroeville!

    Thanks so much for joining Grace at Home. I’m featuring you this week!

  13. Bev says:

    Great post and so interesting. I’ve been through Monroeville but never stopped at the museum…now I will have to! Interesting that the original Finch home in Maycomb was turned into an ice cream shop as well!

  14. Natasha In Oz says:

    I love this post! I will be teaching TKAMB later this year so will share these photographs with my students. Thanks for sharing your tour at the #sundaysdownudner link up. I’ve pinned and shared your post.

    Have you read new book? I’m not sure I want to after hearing the bad news about Atticus!

    Best wishes from Down Under!
    Natasha in Oz

    • Natasha, thanks so much! I haven’t read the new one but will start it next week! I am thrilled the pics can be used for teaching your students! Thanks for pinning and sharing!

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