from Linda Vice, the Front Porch Philosopher
This last weekend was a triumph for Monroeville, Alabama. It was the 50th anniversary of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. It may turn out to be the fiction bestseller of all time. Almost every student in America reads it at some time. It is a multilayered work telling the story of life in a small rural town with the good, the bad and the ugly with honesty and humor. Those of us who live in the area will find ourselves, our lives and our ancestors embedded somewhere in its pages. This book has probably done more for us in the South to examine our prejudices and lay them aside in honor of the plight of the whole human race than the author ever imagined as she pinned her narrative. It is a morality play told through the fresh eyes of a child.
We here in rural Southwest Alabama have learned to appreciate our lives and opportunities because of it, the people in Monroeville, Maycomb’s model, perhaps most of all. They never denied that these things could have happened here. They took the lemons of the situation that could have made they have fingers forever pointed at them and made lemonade. They have been doing it for years with the annual productions of the play about the book.
This weekend, they all banded together to welcome the world to celebrate the birthday. People literally came from all over the world to be part of this. There were four days of activities. The schedule included a variety of activities. All of them were successful. The biggest hit was the dinner party held at the Hybart House, a property owned by the Monroe County Heritage Museum. A dinner was prepared by a husband and wife chef team from the Little Savannah restaurant in Birmingham. The menu consisted of foods mentioned in the book. There were 275 people who showed up for supper. Some came without tickets, which were sold out, but like good southern hosts, they were allowed to come anyway. The vegetables were all locally grown and fresh. There was fried chicken, of course, because frying is a sacred ritual of the south. There was sweet tea, which has been called the table wine of the South. Nothing was served that could not have been found on the table in the 1930s.
There was something for everybody during the celebration. There were children’s games of the Mockingbird era every day on the Courthouse lawn. There were daily walking tours with local stories led by local volunteers. There was a continuous reading of The Book in the courtroom that Hollywood replicated for the movie. There was an art show at a local gallery across from the courthouse. There were barbecue lunches served every day on the courthouse lawn prepared by the locally famous Chrtty Street Barbecue. On Saturday night there was a premier of the documentary “Our Mockingbird” by producer Sandy Jaffe followed by a reception on the courthouse lawn billed as “under the stars”. At the evening events Tequila Mockingbird was served. It was invented especially for Monroeville and could be had in a commemorative glass for $10.
The best thing about the whole celebration was how excited and involved the whole community was about being host to the world. Lest you think I am exaggerating, check out the Monroe County Heritage Museum’s website to see the articles written and the broadcasts produced about the event. Two major networks spent three days in this small rural town. Major dailies did stories in advance that helped to promote the event. The people of the town volunteers in whatever capacity they were needed. They manned the museum, lead the tours, lent their art, sold the tickets and whatever else was needed. They were unfailingly polite and cooperative to visitors. The museum staff set the tone with their own style of hospitality and grace. They were never too busy to answer questions and greet guests. The Chamber of commerce supported them in every way. It is amazing how a small town can pull together to pull off an event of national prominence.
The locals were all around town to share their Mockingbird stories. One man in a store located right across the street from the site of Harper Lee’s childhood home shared a reference on the Boo Radley character’s prototype. He said such a person really did exist. The man really was kept in the house. He was spied on by local children just like the book described. He was often seen to beat a stick against the wall in a rhythmic pattern with his head pressed against the wall to listen to the vibrations. There were other stories, too that were shared – speculations as to why Harper Lee denied interviews. People are not defensive about the topic of the story that related to the rape of a white woman by a black man who was innocent but still convicted. Most recognize and verbalize that those were different times. Today, all the people of Monroeville work together to keep the message alive in its real location of the story that has been heard around the world. Learn more about To Kill a Mockingbird at the website, www.tokillamockingbird.com.