Harper Lee & Me
The following is the winning Grade 9 speech in this year’s Melhuish Speaking Contest.
Maycomb County, 1930. This southern town, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, was a boiling pot of white supremacists, the fire fueled by the common distaste for the black population. This bitter taste that had been prevalent continues today, the painful nostalgia of the founding of a nation built on lost dreams. A nation that silenced a minority, a nation that breathed life into the flames of hatred, a nation that would attack the few who have the heart to stand up.
Black mothers fear for their children and advise them in preparation for these situations. “Only answer with ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘No, sir’ and do exactly what he tells you to do.” It’d be senseless for her to encourage him to justify his innocence; the next time she’d see her son would be on the face of signs in a protest.
Black men are always guilty, says the law. Black men deserve no due process, say police officers. Black men have no voice, say communities across the nation.
Burning crosses dot the otherwise empty Alabama fields; men in white robes congregate around them. The hatred was real, the lynchings were real, the group mentality of white communities was real, and it hurt. It stung like the whip that dotted ancestral backs and it’s painful like every time I see someone like me perish in the news - another martyr for a cause.
Don’t get me wrong. There were people who made various efforts in this time of oppression. Just look at the north in the heat of the civil rights movement. Recruited for decent paying jobs as welders, ship builders and machinists, the northern states of America seemed to manifest great promise for those seeking a just system. Desegregation rates in schools were on a rise. Things were good. Atticus was the north. He endured endless persecution and worked tirelessly to defend Tom. The thing about the north is, there’s always a south. Unforgiving and relentlessly discriminatory, it takes more than an Atticus Finch to right the wrongs of a nation.
A southern town with a dark spot. A claim was made and the citizens, in fear of various things reacted in both detrimental and positive ways. The African Americans, instead of words of defense, turned to hymns and spirituals. Their counterparts feared that they could possibly have the same rights as those dirty blacks. They retaliated with hatred, prejudice, and severed further ties with the blacks in their town. I, like Atticus, refuse to be silenced, I refuse to fall suit to a smattering of racists and xenophobes, I refuse to be another martyr.
Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird. White vs Black. Maycomb County, 1930.
Didi O, Hope ‘20