Atticus Finch: Civil-Rights Hero or Stereotypical Racist?

The Gospel Coalition | 7/12/2019 | Eric Parker
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I recently got back the results for my 23andMe report, which I ordered because I’ve wondered about my ancestry my whole life. I’m biracial. But I’m not just biracial; I’m biracial in the South, from Montgomery, Alabama. Is there a more confusing identity to hold than to be both black and white in one of the key battleground cities of the civil-rights movement?

So you can imagine, then, how excited I was to have the secrets of my history revealed. What did I find? Anti-climatically, that I’m half African and half European. I don’t know what I was ultimately looking for. I guess something to help me navigate a complex identity in the complex racial environment that is the American South.

World - Complexity - Controversy - Diet - Controversy

Unfortunately, we live in a world where many can’t stomach complexity, only controversy. Live on a diet of controversy, and you will never develop the taste to recognize and appreciate the nuance of complexity. This is why Joseph Crespino’s recent book, Atticus Finch: The Biography: Harper Lee, Her Father, and the Making of an American Icon, is so important to the social memory of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Basic Books (2018). 272 pp. $27.00.

Publication - Go - Set - Watchman - Atticus

The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation? In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources to reveal how Harper Lee’s father provided the central inspiration for each of her books. A lawyer and newspaperman, A. C. Lee was a principled opponent of mob rule, yet he was also a racial paternalist. Harper Lee created the Atticus of Watchman out of the ambivalence she felt toward white Southerners like him. But when a militant segregationist movement arose...
(Excerpt) Read more at: The Gospel Coalition
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