Wednesday, March 3, 2010
On October 1, 1962, James Meredith became the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Violence and riots erupted in response and President Kennedy sent 5,000 armed federal troops into the South to keep order.
It was the height of the Civil Rights struggle and most of the major cities in the Deep South had enforced curfews. In our city there were not only curfews, but checkpoints going into and out of black neighborhoods.
Just after Christmas 1962, I was taken to my first grown-up movie by my parents. We passed through a checkpoint, next to a large searchlight. We sat in the balcony in reverse segregation, since it was a black theater. None of the downtown theaters would show that movie - yet.
That was the first time I met Atticus, and Scout, and Jem and Dill. To this day, I can feel the summer heat and dust rolling off the screen. Watching the film is like revisiting my childhood.
I remember thinking Atticus was just like my dad, an opinion I still hold some 48 years later.
I also remember dad having to talk to an armed police officer when we passed back through the checkpoint, returning to our white neighborhood, the one without curfews and blinding searchlights.
A couple months later in April 1963 Martin Luther King was confined in Alabama, writing "Letter from Birmingham Jail" which argues that individuals have the moral duty to disobey unjust laws.
That's something I also still agree with 48 years later. Probably a result of a southern childhood in the early 1960s. I'd like to think so.
More from To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.