‘One Read’ book helps Columbians discuss race

Harper Lee’s Pulitizer Prize-winning novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ reminds some of the city’s past.
Monday, October 20, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:08 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout,” says Atticus Finch to his daughter, “you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . . Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

This famous dialogue is from Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lee’s novel, set in Maycomb, Ala., during the 1930s, challenged American attitudes about race and family when it was published in 1960.

For the past eight weeks, hundreds of people in Columbia have been reading the novel as part of the Daniel Boone Regional Library’s 2003 One Read program.

Sally Abromovich, co-chairwoman of the One Read program in Columbia, said more than 2,300 people showed up for this year’s discussions and other events — twice as many as last year.

“The whole idea of One Read is to get people to talk, and that is exactly what it did,” said Abromovich, who works at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

In the novel, Atticus, a lawyer and father of two, defends a black man charged with raping a white woman.

In the process, he teaches his children and Maycomb valuable lessons about human compassion and racial injustice.

Brownlee Elliott, 78, taught high school English in Michigan when “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published and used it as part of his curriculum.

Now a Columbia resident, Elliott said the story resonated with Columbia because of the way Atticus raises his children during the controversial trial and also because the narrator, Scout, is only 8 years old.

“I think there are families who were interested in what you do as a family when there are pressures from the community,” Elliott said. “It’s also interesting to me because the story is told so skillfully through the eyes of Scout. All the political issues come through indirectly. You have to interpret Scout’s understanding, and the issues do come out.”

The most widely discussed topic in this year’s One Read program was race. The Finches’ family relationships were next.

Marie Glaze, a Columbia native who held a One Read discussion group, said there were some similarities between Columbia during the 1960s and Maycomb during the 1930s.

For instance, Glaze didn’t attend an integrated school until her freshman year of high school.

“There are aspects of our community that make people uncomfortable,” Glaze said. “No one likes to remember what Columbia was like 50 years ago. The last lynching here was in the ‘20s. There were laws on the books that prohibited blacks from being on juries.”

Knowing the story line in advance made sections of the book more painful to read, Glaze said.

“This time, it was a very difficult read for me, leading into the arrest of Tom Robinson and his subsequent trial and his death. That was extremely painful for me,” Glaze said.

Marcia Vanderlip, community relations manager for Barnes & Noble, said One Read participants told her they enjoyed reading about the methods Atticus used to help his children understand the turmoil the trial created in Maycomb and how they could learn from it.

“You see the child has learned something from the parent, and the parent has learned something from the child,” Vanderlip said. “Watching the narrator see all the things she sees and still be a loving person from the end is a very moving part of the book.”

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