I guess you might say that I have retired, though, like most “retired” people I talk with, I have become busier instead of more leisurely in that much sought-after state of existence. Be that as it may, I am having a lot more fun in my activities than I was working an academic schedule.
We had quite a weekend. A while back I somehow got to be head of the Dear Old Town Club, an organization in Washington, Ark. that promotes local history and, generally, southern humanities. One of the ladies in our club had a brainstorm about a year ago that we should perform a reader’s theater rendition of Harper Lee’s famous story, To Kill a Mockingbird. She and some of the other members redacted it down to about an hour and a half, we practiced the reading, made arrangements for the use of the courtroom in the 1874 courthouse and performed it Saturday night.
Before the show, the park historian lectured about the analogies between the deep south of the novel and Washington. The main difference is that Washington was more of a pioneer type of south than the large plantation south of places like Georgia. Antebellum race relations in the two regions were apparently somewhat different, too. The historian said that accused African-Americans wanted their trials to take place in Hempstead County because there was a tradition that such people would get better treatment and a fair trial. Further, black and white lived close to each other in Washington—everyone knew everyone else—and each enjoyed the other’s activities, such as barbecues and parades.
So, To Kill a Mockingbird may have presented a somewhat harsher view of race relations than existed in this region, though I do not wish to suggest that we were without such problems here. There was plenty of prejudice and injustice in Washington as well as in the south of Lee’s book. Nonetheless, the reading we performed was well-received and the score of attendees were very warm in their reception of our efforts. The outstanding feature of the novel as we told it was that the plot covered a very wide range in portraying the human condition, from cowardice to bravery, depravity to integrity, ignorance to brilliance, blatant injustice to convictions of absolute fairness. Even though justice does not prevail in the novel, integrity does and Atticus Finch stands as an example of integrity, not only for the legal profession, but for all of us, especially southerners.
Because of our success in presenting the reader’s theater, I think the club will probably do more. For our next production, I would like to depart from the reader’s theater format and do some actual drama. We have several places at Historic Washington State Park that would be appropriate for doing plays. One problem, though, is that, for some reason, we have more women than men in our club. Maybe if I can come up with a play with some interesting male roles, we can attract some more fellows to the organization.