Atticus Finch was the champion of a black man’s rights in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a story instructing one and all to be tolerant and have courage in the face of racial discrimination; it was later made into an academy award winning blockbuster with the renowned actor, Gregory Peck, playing the young lawyer, Atticus.
Harper Lee wrote another book about Atticus Finch, as an elder, when he’s 72, called. “Go Set a Watchman,” and the novel has been kept secret since the 1950s.
Only now is it being released.
I’m very clear, after seeing the book reviews, that I’m not ever “gonna” read the new version of the elder Atticus in “Watchman.”
In this new version, Atticus is a confessed racist who attended KKK rallies.
I know enough about that kind of unreconstructed southern segregationist – as I presume is fictionalized in Lee’s “Watchman” – that I don’t need to read it.
After all, the significance of the title, “to kill a mocking bird,” is that it means to kill innocence, and to denigrate Atticus in this successor novel is the same thing.
While Atticus may have been a conflated creation of Harper Lee’s imagination, I know that there really did exist men and women like the Atticus of “Mockingbird,” who showed courage in the face of racial intolerance.
The nation needs such vision now, a standard, an uplifting idea, to focus the scattered energy of our people, by which we may measure how and whether we are moving forward.
The nation is hurting but there have been southern winds of reform that are significant and encouraging because they represent change.
Aristotle taught that “spoken words” are symbols of “affections in the soul.”
There are of course many other means of expression that are symbols revelatory of the soul.
We live in a symbol system in the South of flags, place names, statues, and more that are inherent in the regional culture that reflect grave disaffection in a collective soul and perpetuate the wrongly learned values of rebellion, intolerance, segregation, slavery and hate.
This ante-bellum “arrangement” may well suit those in an enduring “rebellion” but not those who are the objects of intolerance.
These symbols, much discussed of late, evoke energy that mis-directs the conduct of our culture and society.
We require a system that brings us together, no longer divides us, that acknowledges the diverse ever-expanding population of persons of color, the tolerance and equality that is their due, and that millennials and the ever-politically-active boomer population support.
That’s why Confederate flags are being lowered and removed and the flag poles carried away, most recently by Alabama Governor Robert J. Bentley, and why streets are being re-named, vanity plates recalled, why statues are and will be removed, as the prelude, we hope, to a more tolerant and cooperative national sentiment.
I had the privilege to spend the past week with men and women who live and breathe dreams and aspirations every day – artists – who can instruct our soulful spirit to renew itself, to build a vitalizing symbol system that reflects what’s best about us, the affections of our soul, rather than what is toxic and banal.
Jack Kennedy once said, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”
Striking out on a new course to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence and to conform with our Constitution as repeatedly amended, contributes to the human spirit in a way long overdue.