Campus celebrates Harper Lee

Katherine Martin

The Honors College and School of Law will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” Tuesday with Attorney General Eric Holder as the keynote speaker, according to David Wilson, chairman of the celebration.

The event is sponsored by the Honors College as part of the Anne Campbell Bloom Lecture Series and is free and open to the public, but seating will be limited, said David Wilson, chairman of the celebration.

Olivia Hanceri, a member of the team that put together the celebration, said the Honors College thought it was important to mark the 50th anniversary of the book because of its influence on society.

“’To Kill a Mockingbird’ has had an impact on the University of Alabama because it reminds students that while it may not be accepted to go against the social norm, standing up for your beliefs is worth the fight because it can change the world for the better,” Hanceri said.

Hanceri said students should attend not only to celebrate the continuous impact of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but also to be inspired to be courageous enough to stand up for what they believe, knowing that they have the ability to influence others.

Nelle Harper Lee attended the University of Alabama as a law student in the 1950s and was editor of the humor magazine “Rammer Jammer,” said Fran Oneal, assistant director of the Honors program said.

“Just as important as her direct tie to the University is her role in affecting public opinion at a key time in the Civil Rights Movement which dramatically affected both the state and the University,” Oneal said.  “The Civil Rights era is an important chapter in the University’s history, and Harper Lee is an important player in that chapter.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” highlighted not only the deep-seated injustices that existed in the U.S. at that time, but also showed the kernel of decency and the moral compass that exists inside every Atticus, the protagonist of the book, Oneal said.

“There is worldwide recognition of the tension that exists between the small-mindedness of prejudice and the core of decency within every person and every society,” Oneal said. “Through its worldwide readership — over 1 million copies per year are still sold- the book has continued to keep the state of Alabama, both the good and the bad, in the public mind for over 50 years now.”

Wilson said Holder was chosen as keynote speaker because of his ties to the University.

“We are very honored that Holder was attracted to the University and Honors College and cannot be more proud to have him as out keynote speaker,” Wilson said.

As attorney general, Oneal said, Holder is the chief enforcement officer for civil rights law in this nation.

“It also meaningful that he is our nation’s first African American attorney general and that through his sister-in-law Vivian Malone Jones, a pioneer in integrating the student body at UA, he has direct ties to our institution,” Oneal said.

Vivian Malone Jones was one of two black students to integrate the University in 1963.

Wilson said the Honors College asked the law school to be the hosting venue because of the symbolic nature of the book.

During this occasion, Alabama Law School Dean Kenneth C. Randall will announce the launch of a new national book award titled “The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Literature.”

The prize will be awarded annually to a work of fiction that best exemplifies the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change, a press release stated.

Oneal said Lee, a long time friend of the Honors College, has certainly been invited to the celebration, and accepted the invitation should her health allow her to travel.

Wilson said the Honors College could not be more happy and excited about the celebration the group put together.

“The contributions that ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has made to our modern world deserves more recognition than we could ever give,” Wilson said. “I think ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is one of the most influential pieces of literature that has ever been written. I would venture to say that it is the most important book of the Civil Rights Movement.”