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PATTERSON: Forever Stamp for Harper Lee

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Harper Lee, who died in 2016, received many honors during her long life. She is worthy of recognition by the U.S. Postal Service with a Forever stamp.

Lee’s 1960 book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” set in Depression-era South Alabama, became a national bestseller and an Academy Award-winning 1962 film. Actor Gregory Peck received his only Academy Award for his role as small-town lawyer Atticus Finch.

In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Lee the National Medal of Arts. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a timeless story about racial injustice and a young girl’s loss of innocence. Finch, a White lawyer, defends a Black man accused of raping a White woman. One historian described Finch as “the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.”

The book was Lee’s first published novel and became a bestseller. In May 1961, Lee told the Associated Press that she would like to write another book, but due to the success of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she did not have time. She negotiated the film rights to the book. More than 40 million copies of the book have been sold. AOL.COM estimates that 1 million copies are sold yearly.

A critically acclaimed Broadway version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” had its successful run interrupted by the COVID-19 lockdown and national protests over the tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020. A national touring company continues to perform.

The Floyd tragedy put a critical light on racism in America. While “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was once widely read in schools, the book has increasingly been challenged, dropped and banned from curriculums.

The racial relations between Whites and Blacks are complicated by the opinions and personal histories of the ancestors of Civil War veterans, segregationists, integrationists and the ancestors of enslaved Alabamians.

When we think we have made racial progress, a tragedy like the Floyd murder reminds us that racism remains a problem.  Today’s educators may not want to risk igniting classroom violence over Lee’s book.

In the 1960s, the same was true in Alabama public schools. Some teachers considered the book too controversial for the classroom. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the state had more than 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was published when Alabama’s politicians were ardent segregationists. Lee demonstrated courage by writing the book. It would have been a tragedy if fear had prevented her from writing it.  She was a fearless woman.

In 1962, George C. Wallace was elected governor of Alabama. His platform was solid segregation. Wallace likely missed Lee’s essential message in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In 2024, Lee, a brave voice in literature, could soon be canceled by educators who fear classroom violence from students and administrators who, like Wallace, miss the message of Lee’s book. That would be another tragedy.

To keep students and educators aware of Harper Lee and the importance of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I recently wrote to the U.S. Post Office requesting a commemorative Forever stamp in honor of the author. “The topic is under consideration as a possible future postage stamp,” wrote Shawn P. Quinn, the manager of stamp development at the Postal Service.

Actor Gregory Peck, who died in 2003 at 87, was honored with a Forever stamp in 2011. For his image, the artist shows Peck in his film role as Atticus Finch.

The phenomenal success of “To Kill a Mockingbird” led many Alabamians to suggest that Lee had difficulty managing her fame. She lived as a recluse in New York City for most of her life.

Lee died in 2016. Nearly 10 years later, it is time for the Postal Service to honor her with a commemorative Forever stamp. It is the right thing for our government to do.

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