On the Fourth of July, we watched the classic movie “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is based on the famous Harper Lee novel. It raises universal questions.
It takes place in a sleepy Southern town during the Great Depression, so people were suffering. (Sound familiar?) The white folks are mostly gentle souls; the black folks are mostly treated with respect. (They know their place, of course.) Children freely roam their neighborhood — mostly without fear — until they are called home for supper. It was a good time to be alive! Well, maybe.
Ignorant, viciously bigoted farmer Bob Ewell falsely charges a black man, Tom Robinson, with raping his daughter. Lawyer Atticus Finch defends Robinson. Ewell’s utter contempt for black people is on full display. Body language, facial and verbal expression are stereotypical of “redneck” culture.
Shot in black and white, it’s futile to attempt to show on screen what a redneck response is really like. But the rest is there with frightening realism. The ending? Predictable. After an impassioned plea by Atticus, the redneck jury sends Tom to his death anyway. End of story.
But is it? Eighty years have passed. How far have we come? We watched, horrified, as a black man was extra-judicially executed on camera by a white officer in Minnesota. And the beat goes on. Our national “leadership” is bigoted, divisive, totally ineffective in providing the healing we desperately need. The president even told — to applause — an audience of lawmen, “Don’t be gentle as you load suspects (black, mostly) into your car.”
I’m not a racist, but I’m sure I have subtle attitudes just below the surface. So, in 244 years, how far have we come?
Not far enough. Nowhere near.
Thomas Kirkpatrick is a member of the Senior Coastsiders Creative Writing Workshop.
Correction: This version corrects the spelling of the author's name.