Remembering Harper Lee {April 28,1926 – February 19, 2016}

 “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 6:8

With the death of Pulitzer Prize winner Harper Lee last Friday, it only seems fitting to pay tribute to the late Alabama literary giant.  We ran this post last summer, and today I wanted to share an updated version!  I hope you can sit back and enjoy this post that is packed full of information, history, and the author we all knew and loved!

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


Chances 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” last summer, I 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.  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.  Fun fact: this photo was discovered by someone with the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association and they used our photo on the cover of their Fall 2015 journal!  You can see it here.

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!

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

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.

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what”
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

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.

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 2015, 55 years after her novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published, it was announced that the 88 year old 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” were given keys to the city.  Exactly 45 years later, the two actors returned to Gadsden for a screening of the movie!

Two weeks after its release, we spotted Go Set a Watchman in storefronts in Dublin, Ireland and Newcastle, England!

Research sources:

Linking with Pieced PastimesSilver Pennies, Life on Lakeshore DriveThoughts From Alice, Coastal Charm, My Uncommon Slice of SuburbiaDwellings-Heart of Your HomeSavvy Southern Style, 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 Charm of Home, Cornerstone ConfessionsA Delightsome Life, Imparting GracePosed PerfectionKatherines Corner, Rooted In Thyme, Share Your Cup, The Enchanting Rose, 21 Rosemary LaneCozy Little House, Rattlebridge FarmRustic & Refined, My Romantic Home, Poofing The Pillows


    • Everyday Living says:

      Shirley, the way Harper Lee and Capote’s lives were intertwined is so interesting. I could have spent much more time in the museum just reading! Happy Tuesday!

  1. I enjoyed reading your post again this morning. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is required reading in our high school english class. Harper Lee was a gifted writer that will be remembered. I would like to watch the movie again. Thank you for your pictures that bring to mind many thought provoking observations in her book.

    • Everyday Living says:

      Bonnie, I need to watch the movie again, also! I have enjoyed reading since grammar school and typically read a book per week! So much to learn! Happy Tuesday!

    • Everyday Living says:

      Audra, thank you for taking time to read the post! Still so much to learn and books are great teachers! Happy Tuesday!

  2. Dawn Richardson says:

    My favorite book, my favorite movie and my favorite author, also from my home state. Great post! Thanks for sharing about a wonderful person who lived life by her own standards. RIP Nelle Harper Lee.

    • Everyday Living says:

      Dawn, thank you so much! The museum is so interesting and educational…learned quite a few interesting details that I didn’t know!

  3. We three gals, a mom and two daughters that make up Casserole Gals love the book and the movie! Thank you for the tour of Harper Lee’s hometown. Maybe one day we will have the opportunity to visit.

    • Everyday Living says:

      Oh, I Certainly hope you get to visit Harper Lee’s hometown! The Old Courthouse Museum is fascinating! Happy Leap Day, Pam

    • Everyday Living says:

      Thanks, Carol! Monroeville is a very interesting small town where Truman Capote and Harper Lee lived next door to each other as children! Love sharing at SYC!

  4. Stacey says:

    I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the book. I know it’s a classic and we all should read it…it’s on the list. Thank you for sharing such a thorough and well written post with Thoughts of Home on Thursday. 🙂

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