I found this book when I ordered another book by the same name through inter-library loan Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate and teach this instead. Like Harper Lee, Lillian Smith was a white southern woman who grew up observing the atrocities of the Jim Crow south. Unlike Harper Lee, she was worldly and political. To Kill A Mockingbird
tells a tragic story and bears an important message about the evil of legally and culturally-sanctioned racism. But it lies, also. Most towns didn't have an Atticus Finch. When mobs showed up at the jailhouse to lynch a prisoner, there usually wasn't a precocious child to step in and shame a man in front of a crowd and halt a murder.
The Maxwell, Georgia of Strange Fruit
doesn't have a Finch family among its white population. Tom Harris is the closest that they have, and though he'll step in to stop a lynching, he'll shrug his shoulders and soldier on if he fails. Vulnerable black children and women are left the prey of white teenagers and men seeking sexual satisfaction and dominance, and their wives and mothers, clergy and law enforcement bemoan it and look the other way, as though speaking about it were the worse sin. Maxwell's white residents, poor and uneducated for the most part, hold steadfast to their particular supremacist view of both Christianity and American history.
At the center of this story are the Andersons, an educated black family, who for all of their college degrees, work the only jobs they can find in Maxwell - as servants. Ed Anderson has moved on to bigger and better things in Washington and now works for the government, but Bess and Nonnie are still at home in Maxwell, Bess as a cook and Nonnie as a nanny. Ed is in town for a visit and having trouble adjusting to life in the south again, anxious and angry. His eyes have been opened in Washington to the injustice he and his family were dealt in Maxwell, and he's desperately trying to get Bess and Nonnie out. Bess is smart, careful and nervous, and Nonnie is beautiful and otherworldly, and men can't help looking at her - which is where the trouble starts. She's two months pregnant with the child of the son of the town's white doctor, and he's all but engaged to another girl. Brother Dunwoodie has just arrived in town to bring Maxwell's souls to Jesus with a revival and it is damned hot outside. . .
I can't recommend this book enough - to anyone and everyone. For a portrait of the Jim Crow South and a good description of the troubles that faced African Americans fleeing it with the first waves of the great migration. 10 stars. You'll never look at To Kill A Mockingbird the same again.