For the better part of the past fifty years, I have read The New Yorker with regularity. Never has it presented anything as silly as Malcolm Gladwell's The Courthouse Ring - Atticus Fitch and the limits of Southern Liberalism.
Gladwell contends that Scout's dad, Atticus Fitch, "sought to humanize Jim Crow, not challenge it." When Fitch learns the fate of Tom Robinson, he reacts calmly, and Gladwell argues:
If Fitch were a civil-rights hero, he would be brimming with rage at the unjust verdict.
Perhaps it was an isolated childhood, or too many cartoons, but clearly Gladwell was deprived of the opportunity to understand the complex reactions to change experienced by so many Americans confronted by the changing times of the 1950's and 1960's by both the civil rights movement and the response to the war in Vietnam.
I need not tear through the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, but only to make two points.
First, many of the most committed and dedicated attorneys of the period were moderate Republicans fully committed to the First Amendment, sober in tone and demeanor, but as passionate as William Kunstler (who represented me in 1967-68) when it came to civil rights and civil liberties. These were men who wore suits as conservative as their politics and were as committed to the civil rights movement and free speech as any freedom rider.
Secondly, it was impossible to gauge the militancy of any American during this period until they were directly confronted with one of the string of horrors that was to unfold on a regular basis on the new medium of television. Whether it was fire hoses and murders, or campus beatings and bombings, you did not really know your neighbor until you saw their response to the brutality and the carnage. They did not know themselves.
Gladwell noted that this is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee's story told through the eyes of a child about her Daddy. Clearly he wishes to capitalize on that. He receives the attention he craves, but adds nothing to the brilliant conversation started by a seven year old.
As for the comparisons of Tom Robinson's trial with the prospects of a Boo Radley trial, clearly Gladwell needs a sense of humor. Boo Radley would never go to trial - he committed no crime.