Tuesday 16 January 2018

Harper Lee laid to rest in private ceremony in Alabama

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ author Harper Lee, who died last week. Photo: Getty
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ author Harper Lee, who died last week. Photo: Getty

Kim Chandler

On a day when mockingbirds sang outside the courthouse that inspired her classic American novel, author Harper Lee was laid to rest in a private ceremony, a reflection of how she had lived.

The few dozen people who comprised Lee's intimate circle gathered on Saturday at a church in the small Alabama town of Monroeville, which the author used as a model for the imaginary town of Maycomb, the setting of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Lee died on Friday aged 89.

Lee's longtime friend, history professor Wayne Flynt, eulogised her in a ceremony at First United Methodist Church. Afterwards, her casket was taken by silver hearse to an adjacent cemetery where her parents, AC Lee and Frances Finch Lee, and sister, Alice, are buried. A spray of red and white roses covered the family headstone at the cemetery.

Flynt said he delivered an address that Lee specifically requested years ago. Entitled 'Atticus Inside Ourselves', it was a tribute Flynt gave in 2006 when she won the Birmingham Pledge Foundation Award for racial justice. Flynt said Lee liked the speech so much she wanted him to give it as her eulogy. "I want you to say exactly that," Flynt quoted Lee as saying at the time. "Not one thing more, and not one thing less."

"If I deviated one degree, I would hear this great booming voice from heaven, and it wouldn't be God," Flynt said in an earlier interview.

Details of the service were fiercely guarded. The author, who for decades had declined media interviews, had wanted a quick and quiet funeral without pomp or fanfare, family members said.

The town was appropriately sombre a day after their native daughter's death. Black bows adorned the doors of the old courthouse in Monroeville where Lee as a child, like her literary creation Scout Finch, would peer down from the balcony as her lawyer father tried his cases in the courtroom. Mockingbirds chirped among camellia bushes outside the courthouse on a warm Alabama morning that teased the arrival of spring.

Jared Anton, of Hollywood, Florida, sat outside the old courthouse during part of a planned vacation through the South. He said reading the book - in which attorney Atticus Finch defends a wrongly accused African-American man - was one of the reasons he decided to become a lawyer. "It had an impact on me when I was younger. I wanted to do the right thing, to stand up to people, to defend the innocent," Anton said. "It is the greatest American novel. Name one that really has had more of an impact on Americans than that book."

Irish Independent

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