As the birthplace and hometown of Nelle Harper Lee, Alabama’s brightest literary luminary, and the thinly disguised setting for her most famous work, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Monroeville, Alabama, is a special spot worth a visit if you’re interested in Southern writers.
Start your visit downtown. Step onto the square there, and it’s like you’ve stepped back in time. And while the same can be said about other downtown areas in other Southern small towns, there’s something truly special at the center of downtown Monroeville. There, like a grand lady, topped off with a very fancy hat, sits the Old Courthouse. Built in 1903, the courtroom in this courthouse was the inspiration for the courtroom described in the pivotal trial in Mockingbird.
Today the Old Courthouse houses the Monroe County Heritage Museum and a gift shop. In addition to continually changing art and cultural exhibits, the museum honors Lee and her friend Truman Capote, who was also a renowned author. Old photos, letters, and other personal items are on display and give a glimpse into the writers’ motivations. On the grounds, a monument put in place by the Alabama State Bar Association honors the courage of Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer (based on Lee’s own father) and one of the Mockingbird’s main characters.
But the real gem is back inside. For anyone who has been moved by the timeless story of Mockingbird, standing in the balcony of the courtroom, with its elaborate patterned ceiling and elegant curving rails is a treat. For just a moment, you can easily imagine being one of the onlookers who breathlessly watched Atticus pacing the wooden floor while delivering his impassioned argument.
Each April and May, you can do better than your own imagination. You can watch the cast of the Mockingbird Players (made up of locals, many of whom have played the same roles for years) put on a two-act play of the book, with the first scenes set on the courthouse lawn and the final dramatic scenes taking place in the courtroom. As it has been since the play premiered in Monroeville in 1991, during each show, play attendees who are white men over the age of eighteen may be called for jury duty. Those selected are asked to sit with the jury during the infamous courtroom scene.
While the literary heritage Lee and Capote created for this small town is great (and ongoing, with several contemporary authors coming out of the city and the annual Alabama Writers Symposium convening in Monroeville each spring), there is even more to Monroeville. Other places of interest in the area include the Alabama River Museum with its many Native American artifacts as well as Rikard’s Mill. Built in 1845, this water-powered gristmill is still working, giving visitors the chance to see traditions of the past in action. See corn become cornmeal, watch a blacksmith ply his trade, or just explore the nearby nature trails.
Before you leave the area, there’s one more stop you should make. Lee died on February 19, 2016, and is buried in her family’s plot in the cemetery next to the First United Methodist Church (where she worshiped). Many have visited her final resting place to show respectful appreciation for her immense contributions both to literature and to the principles of justice and civil rights.
SEE MORE “MONROEVILLE AND THE MOCKINGBIRD” PHOTOS HERE