Monroeville, AL – A group of protestors carrying signs and crosses is demanding the removal of a monument to Atticus Finch in this sleepy, southern Alabama town.
Chanting, praying, and handing leaflets to pedestrians and motorists, the protestors descended on the Monroeville town square at dawn Thursday. Numbering roughly 50 to 100, they occupied the space around the monument all day.
“Atticus Finch was a racist segregationist, and we believe people like that should not be honored in public space,” said Byzantium Moore, the group’s ostensible leader.
The epigraph on the monument reads “Atticus Finch: Lawyer - Hero.” The monument was placed in the Monroeville town square by the Alabama State Bar Association in 2010.
Atticus Finch is the beloved character from Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. In the book he unsuccessfully defends a black man from false accusations of rape.
Concerns have arisen recently about Atticus Finch’s racial magnanimity, however. In Lee’s controversial sequel, Go Set a Watchman, published this month, Finch attends citizens’ councils, widely held to be synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan. He also espouses segregationist views to his grown-up daughter, Scout.
Still, the Finch monument has its defenders. Winston Trudell, a white retired judge and professor at Auburn University, said the racist Finch character inspired him as a teenager.
“He’s the reason I went into law in the first place,” Trudell said. “Every lawyer and judge in Alabama read that book when they were kids. He’s an American hero, in my opinion.”
When asked whether he was open to changing his mind in light of revelations about Finch’s racist views, Trudell said no. “That’s not the real Atticus,” he said emphatically.
That position will become hard to defend as more people read Go Set a Watchman and discover the inconvenient truth about Atticus Finch. Meanwhile, the protestors vow they will not rest until the monument is removed. They were back at the town square in greater numbers Friday morning.
“This is like the Confederate symbols all across the South,” Moore said yesterday. “People say, ‘Look past the war, past secession, past slavery, and you see there was good in people.’ I say, ‘Excuse me? How can a racist be a good person in any way, shape or form?’ And what does it say about us that we honor these folk?”
Monroeville’s city manager, Rosco Ward, issued a press release stating the city was “looking into the allegations of racism and potential next steps should they prove valid.” The Alabama State Bar Association was unavailable for comment.