To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960 - Background: Trials

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  • Although especially the Scottsboro Trial is often seen as a background to "To Kill a Mockingbird," Hazel Rowley notes: "Harper Lee has said that she did not base the fictional story on any specific historical case... In a letter to me, Harper Lee says that she did not have so sensational a case in mind when she was writing Mockingbird, 'but it will more than do as an example (albeit a lurid one) of deep-South attitudes on race vs. justice that prevailed at the time.'" The Australian's Review of Books, April 1999
  • A trial closely resembling the one in the novel happened in Monroeville itself: "On Thursday, November 9, 1933, the Monroeville Journal reported that Noami Lowery told authorities that Walter Lett had raped her the previous Thursday near a brick factory south of Monroeville. According to the newspaper, Lett 'was captured on Saturday afternoon and taken into custody. Fearing that an attempt would be made to lynch the Negro by mob following the news of the attack, Sheriff Sawyer took the Negro to the jail in Greenville for safekeeping.'
    Both Lett and Lowery were luckless types, human floatsam on the surface of economic hard times... she was white and her word mattered more than a Negro's. Lett desperately protested that he didn't know his accuser, and that he was working elsewhere during the time of assault... (Lett) was arraigned on March 16, 1934, on a grand jury indictment on a capital crime of rape, which carried the death penalty. He pled 'not guilty.'...
    On March 30, Lett appeared a final time before Judge Hare and was asked if 'he had anything to say why the judgement of the law should not now be passed upon him.' Lett stood manacled before the judge, head down, and remained silent. Judge Hare set the date of execution for Friday, May 11, 1934... The verdict, however, didn't sit well with some of the leading citizens of Monroeville... and on May 8, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Governor B.M. Miller granted a stay of execution... (Finally) Lett's sentence (was changed) from death in the electric chair to life imprisonment."
    From: Charles J. Shields: Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, 2006, p. 118.