National Geographic : 2006 Jan
MONROEVILLE, ALABAMA friends," Ms. Y told me. I call her Ms. Y because, like Mr. X, she is fearful of being quoted talking about Harper Lee. Mention Lee, and the wagons circle. "Those who value her companionship walk on eggs," said George T. Jones, a columnist for the Monroe Journal.Perhaps the uneasiness was always there. When the novel first came out, there wasn't a long line of people waiting to buy it in pre-civil-rights Monroeville. "Folks didn't take much notice until the movie came out," he says. "It seems there are a few rough edges between Harper Lee and the town," I said to the Reverend Thomas Lane Butts, a keen surveyor of souls and a friend of the writer. He considered the matter carefully. "We all have our dark side," he said finally. "In most of us it remains hidden." We are all light and shadow, except, perhaps, the pitch-black soul of Bob Ewell, Mockingbird'svillain. Cranky, mean Mrs. Dubose turns out to be brave. Gossipy Miss Stephanie has a good heart. Even Mayella Ewell, the white girl who falsely accuses a black man of rape, plants geraniums in chipped enamel chamber pots, trying to bring beauty to her bleak, shabby world. We want to believe the dancer is the dance; we think we know the writer from the words, but it's never that simple. If Harper Lee wants a cordon sanitaire around her, let it be. Best to heed Atticus-Most people are nice when you finally see them-and read that beautiful book. 0 WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE View more images of Monroeville and its production of To Kill a Mock ingbird, get access to resources and study guides on the book, then nominate your own favorite zip code for coverage in the magazine at ngm.com/0601. In an eerie echo of To Kill a Mockingbird, Walter "Johnny D" McMillian was convicted in 1987 of murdering an 18-year-old white woman in Monroeville, despite a lack of evidence. McMillian spent seven years on death row until the persistence of a young lawyer, Bryan Steven son, and a 60 Minutes story resulted in his exoneration. "I've done forgiven the people that lied on me and put me in prison," McMillian said upon release. "I'm not bitter at all." He returned to Monroeville, where he runs a junkyard.