Today I lost an inspirational friend, but my friend Scout lost her Mother. Harper Lee, the creator of To Kill a Mockingbird has gone to join her much loved sister and protector, aged 89.
I know Scout well; her story of a father defending an African American man against more than what he was charged with, appealed to my crusading nature. When I first read the book, I didn’t understand much of it, but rereading it in my late teens, after experiencing segregation American style, the message spoke strongly to me. I knew Scout and I would be friends in the real world. We would share long discussions about racism and I would learn from her experiences.
Unlike some, I wasn’t disappointed by Go Set A Watchman and the grown-up Scout, now preferring her birth name Jean Louise. Many of us grow up to find our idols have feet of clay and are capable of doing “The Right thing” whilst believing quite differently in their deepest heart. It is sad sometimes, but it is part of growing up. Jean Louise and I could still be friends only our discussions would be less starry-eyed about changing the world; instead, we would discuss the reality of our lives.
Harper Lee, or more correctly Nelle Harper Lee, who gave life to my friend Scout/Jean Lousie, was born in the age of total segregation. She knew first hand its stresses and inequities. Her childhood friend was Truman Capote and stories of Nelle tell of their collaboration on the research for his most famous work In Cold Blood.
There will be many and various obituaries, eulogies and tributes to you Harper Lee from people more learned than me. They will deconstruct and reassemble your life and books and many of these will be fodder for more research about your life and times.
I just want to say Thank you, Ms. Lee. Your books To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman informed many of my opinions of segregation. They opened my mind to how we segregate not only by colour or race but by fat, thin, tall, short, red hair, no hair. You introduced me to my friend Jean Louise.
Nelle Harper Lee – Rest in Peace.