“He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.”
I intended this post for last week, but it works out better today since yesterday was the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird’s release.
Why the fanfare over this book’s birthday? Why do the characters and their story garner praise during evening news segments yet gain a spot on the list of 2009’s most challenged (banned) books?
Perhaps you know. Do you remember the first time you read the book? How did you feel as you sat in Scout’s position in the hot courtroom balcony, feeling the wood of that front row bench cut into your sweating legs as they polled the jury?
When you celebrated July 4th did you remember Scout’s lesson in Miss Gates’s class?
“Hitler is the [German] government,” said Miss Gates, and seizing an opportunity to make education dynamic, she went to the blackboard. She printed DEMOCRACY in large letters. “Democracy,” she said. “Does anybody have a definition?”
“Us,” somebody said.
I raised my hand, remembering an old campaign slogan Atticus had once told me about.
“What do you think it means, Jean Louise?”
“’Equal rights for all, special privileges for none,’” I quoted.
“Very good, Jean Louise, very good,” Miss Gates smiled. In front of DEMOCRACY, she printed WE ARE A. “Now class, say it all together, ‘We are a democracy.’”
We said it. Then Miss Gates said, “That’s the difference between America and Germany. We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship. Dictator-ship,” she said. “Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced….”
And did you question like Scout?
“Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home--”
Saying no to injustice didn’t begin in the summer, but that’s when it was declared. And the movement didn’t end with declaration. To me, July 4th isn’t about patriotic hymns and a Miss Gates rendition of history. To me it is a call to the artist -- to everyone -- to look at our nation and write, paint, sing, or speak. And we join Jefferson and Jem saying, “It ain’t right…It ain’t right.”