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Badmovies.org Forum  |  Movies  |  Press Releases and Film News  |  The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism « previous next »
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Author Topic: The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism  (Read 1729 times)
Allhallowsday
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« on: July 22, 2010, 12:12:33 AM »

The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism.  
In 1954, when James (Big Jim) Folsom was running for a second term as governor of Alabama, he drove to Clayton, in Barbour County, to meet a powerful circuit-court judge.* This was in the heart of the Deep South, at a time when Jim Crow was in full effect. In Barbour County, the races did not mix, and white men were expected to uphold the privileges of their gender and color. But when his car pulled up to the curb, where the judge was waiting, Folsom spotted two black men on the sidewalk. He jumped out, shook their hands heartily, and only then turned to the stunned judge. “All men are just alike,” Folsom liked to say...  

On what side was Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch? Finch defended Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of what in nineteen-thirties Alabama was the gravest of sins, the rape of a white woman. In the years since, he has become a role model for the legal profession. But he’s much closer to Folsom’s side of the race question than he is to the civil-rights activists who were arriving in the South as Lee wrote her novel...  

Here is where the criticism of Finch begins, because the hearts-and-minds approach is about accommodation, not reform. At one point, Scout asks him if it is O.K. to hate Hitler. Finch answers, firmly, that it is not O.K. to hate anyone. Really? Not even Hitler? When his children bring up the subject of the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in Maycomb, he shrugs: “Way back about nineteen-twenty there was a Klan, but it was a political organization more than anything. Besides, they couldn’t find anyone to scare. They paraded by Mr. Sam Levy’s house one night, but Sam just stood on his porch and told ’em things had come to a pretty pass. . . . Sam made ’em so ashamed of themselves they went away.” Someone in Finch’s historical position would surely have been aware of the lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta, Georgia, in 1915. Frank was convicted, on dubious evidence, of murdering a thirteen-year-old girl, Mary Phagan. The prosecutor in the case compared Frank to Judas Iscariot, and the crowd outside the courthouse shouted, “Hang the Jew!” Anti-Semitism of the most virulent kind was embedded in the social fabric of the Old South. But Finch does not want to deal with the existence of anti-Semitism. He wants to believe in the fantasy of Sam Levy, down the street, giving the Klan a good scolding...  

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/10/090810fa_fact_gladwell  
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Newt
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« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2010, 08:03:44 AM »


"Folsom was not a civil-rights activist. Activists were interested in using the full, impersonal force of the law to compel equality. In fact, the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended Folsom’s career, because the racial backlash that it created drove moderates off the political stage. The historian Michael Klarman writes, “Virtually no southern politician could survive in this political environment without toeing the massive resistance line, and in most states politicians competed to occupy the most extreme position on the racial spectrum.” Folsom lost his job to the segregationist John Patterson, who then gave way to the radical George Wallace. In Birmingham, which was quietly liberalizing through the early nineteen-fifties, Bull Connor (who notoriously set police dogs on civil-rights marchers in the nineteen-sixties) had been in political exile. It was the Brown decision that brought him back. Old-style Southern liberalism—gradual and paternalistic—crumbled in the face of liberalism in the form of an urgent demand for formal equality. Activism proved incompatible with Folsomism.

......


One of George Orwell’s finest essays takes Charles Dickens to task for his lack of “constructive suggestions.” Dickens was a powerful critic of Victorian England, a proud and lonely voice in the campaign for social reform. But, as Orwell points out, there was little substance to Dickens’s complaints. “He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places,” Orwell writes. “There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature.’ ” Dickens sought “a change of spirit rather than a change in structure.”


Orwell didn’t think that Dickens should have written different novels; he loved Dickens. But he understood that Dickens bore the ideological marks of his time and place. His class did not see the English social order as tyrannical, worthy of being overthrown. Dickens thought that large contradictions could be tamed through small moments of justice. He believed in the power of changing hearts, and that’s what you believe in, Orwell says, if you “do not wish to endanger the status quo.”

But in cases where the status quo involves systemic injustice this is no more than a temporary strategy. Eventually, such injustice requires more than a change of heart. “What in the world am I ever going to do with the n****rs?” Jim Folsom once muttered, when the backlash against Brown began to engulf his political career. The argument over race had risen to such a pitch that it could no longer be alleviated by gesture and symbolism—by separate but equal inaugural balls and hearty handshakes—and he was lost."

I think the last paragraph above contradicts what seems to be the general position that activism is superior (morally and in effect) to more passive, personal change.  I would suggest that changing hearts leads to more lasting and profound changes in the system.  It just takes longer. It is a 'temporary strategy' but it gets you there  - and to stay.  IF people find their sense of what is right is offended, they will take steps to correct the situation.  This is where we find ourselves today on many issues.  The high road vs the low road?

As for hate: it only harms the hater. 

(Gandhi-style passivism irritates the heck out of me: darn you AHD!)





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Jim H
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« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2010, 01:57:36 PM »

Quote
When his children bring up the subject of the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in Maycomb, he shrugs: “Way back about nineteen-twenty there was a Klan, but it was a political organization more than anything. Besides, they couldn’t find anyone to scare. They paraded by Mr. Sam Levy’s house one night, but Sam just stood on his porch and told ’em things had come to a pretty pass. . . . Sam made ’em so ashamed of themselves they went away.” Someone in Finch’s historical position would surely have been aware of the lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta, Georgia, in 1915

Finch is specifically talking about the Klan presence in their town, not anywhere else in the south, so a lynching elsewhere isn't relevant to what he's saying.  From what I can recall, the basic point is that the people in Maycomb as a whole aren't bad, just that they themselves are part of an ideological system of social injustice.

Quote
Understand what? That her father and the Sheriff have decided to obstruct justice in the name of saving their beloved neighbor the burden of angel-food cake?

This seems like a deliberate misunderstanding of what the book was saying to try to prove a point.  They were "obstructing justice" to save Boo Radley from a process that would destroy him.

Aside from that, I think it has been too long since I read the book to really comment further.
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Allhallowsday
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« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2010, 02:55:48 PM »

This is the article that led me to that "The New Yorker" article that started this thread: 

To mock a hero of literature
Hindsight heaps special scorn on Harper Lee's novel
 

Fifty years ago today, a novel hit America's bookshelves that changed the way millions thought about race and the inexplicable South.

Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," by some estimates the most-read book in American schools, has grown old enough to have become slightly dotty in the minds of fresher readers, many of whom have only a textbook understanding of the way things were.

Indeed, it is fashionable to dis, as we now say, the great and humble Lee, a writer so without vanity that she has declined all attention to herself since the publication of her novel in 1960 and continues to live quietly in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala.

As a heroine herself, she deserves to live out her days without having to hear the din of critics wielding hindsight as virtue. Yet lately, Lee's famous and only novel has earned special scorn as critics opine about the way things should have been, not only in real life but also in the artistic treatment of the era.

Writing a story in the Jim Crow South about a white lawyer who defended a black man against a charge of raping a white woman was an act of courage, make no mistake. And though Atticus Finch, the protagonist-lawyer, might seem bland by today's standards, it is unfair to label him a paternalistic defender of the status quo, as Malcolm Gladwell did last year in The New Yorker... 

http://www.app.com/article/20100711/OPINION/7110333/To-mock-a-hero-of-literature
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