Go Set a Watchman

Page 26

She looked down on rows of familiar heads—white hair, brown hair, hair carefully combed to hide no hair—and she remembered how, long ago when court was dull, she would quietly aim spitballs at the shining domes below. Judge Taylor caught her at it one day and threatened her with a bench warrant.

The courthouse clock creaked, strained, said, “Phlugh!” and struck the hour. Two. When the sound shivered away she saw her father rise and address the assembly in his dry courtroom voice:

“Gentlemen, our speaker for today is Mr. Grady O’Hanlon. He needs no introduction. Mr. O’Hanlon.”

Mr. O’Hanlon rose and said, “As the cow said to the milkman on a cold morning, ‘Thank you for the warm hand.’”

She had never seen or heard of Mr. O’Hanlon in her life. From the gist of his introductory remarks, however, Mr. O’Hanlon made plain to her who he was—he was an ordinary, God-fearing man just like any ordinary man, who had quit his job to devote his full time to the preservation of segregation. Well, some people have strange fancies, she thought.

Mr. O’Hanlon had light-brown hair, blue eyes, a mulish face, a shocking necktie, and no coat. He unbuttoned his collar, untied his tie, blinked his eyes, ran his hand through his hair, and got down to business:

Mr. O’Hanlon was born and bred in the South, went to school there, married a Southern lady, lived all his life there, and his main interest today was to uphold the Southern Way of Life and no niggers and no Supreme Court was going to tell him or anybody else what to do … a race as hammer-headed as … essential inferiority … kinky woolly heads … still in the trees … greasy smelly … marry your daughters … mongrelize the race … mongrelize … mongrelize … save the South … Black Monday … lower than cockroaches … God made the races … nobody knows why but He intended for ’em to stay apart … if He hadn’t He’d’ve made us all one color … back to Africa …

She heard her father’s voice, a tiny voice talking in the warm comfortable past. Gentlemen, if there’s one slogan in this world I believe, it is this: equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

These top-water nigger preachers … like apes … mouths like Number 2 cans … twist the Gospel … the court prefers to listen to Communists … take ’em all out and shoot ’em for treason …

Against Mr. O’Hanlon’s humming harangue, a memory was rising to dispute him: the courtroom shifted imperceptibly, in it she looked down on the same heads. When she looked across the room a jury sat in the box, Judge Taylor was on the bench, his pilot fish sat below in front of him writing steadily; her father was on his feet: he had risen from a table at which she could see the back of a kinky woolly head….

Atticus Finch rarely took a criminal case; he had no taste for criminal law. The only reason he took this one was because he knew his client to be innocent of the charge, and he could not for the life of him let the black boy go to prison because of a half-hearted, court-appointed defense. The boy had come to him by way of Calpurnia, told him his story, and had told him the truth. The truth was ugly.

Atticus took his career in his hands, made good use of a careless indictment, took his stand before a jury, and accomplished what was never before or afterwards done in Maycomb County: he won an acquittal for a colored boy on a rape charge. The chief witness for the prosecution was a white girl.

Atticus had two weighty advantages: although the white girl was fourteen years of age the defendant was not indicted for statutory rape, therefore Atticus could and did prove consent. Consent was easier to prove than under normal conditions—the defendant had only one arm. The other was chopped off in a sawmill accident.

Atticus pursued the case to its conclusion with every spark of his ability and with an instinctive distaste so bitter only his knowledge that he could live peacefully with himself was able to wash it away. After the verdict, he walked out of the courtroom in the middle of the day, walked home, and took a steaming bath. He never counted what it cost him; he never looked back. He never knew two pairs of eyes like his own were watching him from the balcony.

… not the question of whether snot-nosed niggers will go to school with your children or ride the front of the bus … it’s whether Christian civilization will continue to be or whether we will be slaves of the Communists … nigger lawyers … stomped on the Constitution … our Jewish friends … killed Jesus … voted the nigger … our granddaddies … nigger judges and sheriffs … separate is equal … ninety-five per cent of the tax money … for the nigger and the old hound dog … following the golden calf … preach the Gospel … old lady Roosevelt … nigger-lover … entertains forty-five niggers but not one fresh white Southern virgin … Huey Long, that Christian gentleman … black as burnt light’ud knots … bribed the Supreme Court … decent white Christians … was Jesus crucified for the nigger …

Jean Louise’s hand slipped. She removed it from the balcony railing and looked at it. It was dripping wet. A wet place on the railing mirrored thin light coming through the upper windows. She stared at her father sitting to the right of Mr. O’Hanlon, and she did not believe what she saw. She stared at Henry sitting to the left of Mr. O’Hanlon, and she did not believe what she saw …

… but they were sitting all over the courtroom. Men of substance and character, responsible men, good men. Men of all varieties and reputations … it seemed that the only man in the county not present was Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack—she was supposed to go see him sometime. When?

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