Of course not. No reasonable person thinks that Tom Robinson was really guilty.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published 50 years ago today. Happy anniversary to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel written by Harper Lee. There will be much written about it today in celebration and rightly so. It’s an American classic. It’s a story of racism, innocence and redemption.
Like all great stories, this one has its fair share of memorable quotations. There are far too many for me to list all of them here but I must mention a few. I think the most popular quote is the line about people: I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. The other quote is: Jean Louise, stand up your father‘s passing. Everyone remembers those lines, but this is the line that I like:
I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father is one of them.
Unfortunately, most people don’t remember that one. It is a classic. It is as good today as it was then. It describes the essence of a criminal defense lawyer. It’s what we do. It is equally unfortunate that criminal defense lawyers are as loathed by town folks today as Atticus Finch was then.
A jury convicted Tom Robinson on weak and unconvincing evidence. That verdict was based on ignorance, prejudice and racism. It was needed for the story to work. And it did work. Anyone who read the book or saw the movie walked away knowing there was injustice in the world and in the courtroom. There still is.
I would like to think that if this trial took place today that there would be a different result. Surely the prosecutor would not go forward with such flimsy evidence. Surely the judge would dismiss the charge. Surely the jury would find the defendant not guilty. I’m not so sure any of those things would happen though because that’s the way the system works. It’s just too easy to turn a blind eye to justice and vote to convict.
It’s commendable that a person would become outraged that an innocent Tom Anderson was convicted. It’s disturbing that today that same person would be willing to convict someone on the same evidence.
This novel is the reason some folks went to law school. They will celebrate its anniversary in their own way. My tribute to this great story will be twofold. I will continue to ask the question and tonight I will read the book again. I hope more people do the same.