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race, civil rights, equality, courts


This article is reproduced with the permission of the Maryland Bar Journal, published by the Maryland State Bar Association.


"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of the most influential and widely acclaimed legal novels in American history. It tells the story of a small-town white lawyer who is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama. The lawyer, Atticus Finch, is one of the great legal heroes of American fiction. The story, told from the perspective of Atticus' daughter Scout, explores race, class, gender, family and law. Most of all it is a both critical and loving account of the white South. This article is a personal story about the influence of "To Kill a Mockingbird" on Professor Ifill, an African American civil rights lawyer and law professor. In the piece, she explores the implication of some of the fictional liberties taken by the book's author Harper Lee. Ifill also challenges her own previously uncritical view of the character of Atticus Finch. Ifill then presents the stories of some of the real-life lawyers in Maryland, black and white, who defended black men accused of violent crimes against whites in the 1930s. Professor Ifill learned of the work of these lawyers while researching her 2007 book, "On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century."


Civil Rights and Discrimination