Courage and Mourning the Loss of Harper Lee

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

~Harper Lee

By Jessica S. Manuel

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird tells a compelling story, but that’s only half of its legacy. The work taps into a zeitgeist that reinvents itself again and again in our society. Race is one of the most vulnerable parts of American culture, and although our country is still infected with deep, racial residue, we are better than we were. I suppose that’s progress.

In reading these pages, many Americans understood the racial dynamics that paint the past, but we grew up right along with Scout, questioning societal norms and challenging the status quo.

We learn along with Scout what real courage is in the pages of this novel, and like most things, it’s defined by what it’s not. More specifically, we learn it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird because all they do is make beautiful music.

Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

I know in this moment Harper Lee was digging deep into the racial roots of our culture and revealing the hypocrisy that’s wrapped up in prejudicial treatment based on race. This is still prevalent and made so clear by the police shootings over the last ten years. Even still, Harper Lee shows us it takes courage to protect the mockingbirds.

It’s strange how Harper Lee’s passing at the age of 89 brings this issue so much clarity. Death is sad, no matter how old the life lost is. The words she let touch the page shaped our nation, and I feel a very real charge to walk in the courage she wrote about and fight for the mockingbirds in our society.


That is the wisdom that Harper Lee shows in this work and continues to teach generations of students after so many years. We must protect the mockingbirds. In the wake of her death, we honor her legacy of courage.


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