More than 50 years have passed since Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, her gripping novel about racial injustice in deeply segregated Alabama. Now the town where Lee was born and raised, and which served as the inspiration for her best-selling book, has once again become the scene of an unsettling legal dispute that has divided the community.
In a move which has shocked Monroeville, Lee, who resides in an assisted-living facility in the town, is bringing a lawsuit against the local museum, accusing the small, not-for-profit institution of exploiting her fame and the prestige of her Pulitzer-winning book without offering compensation. The museum is fighting back, condemning Lee’s lawsuit as “false” and “meritless” and warning that the legal action could destroy an institution that honours the author’s legacy and provides an economic boost to the town.
It is the kind of ugly public dispute that Lee, an intensely private figure who has spent her life avoiding the spotlight, might have been expected to avoid. Unsurprisingly, Monroeville has been awash with with rumour about whether Miss Nelle, as the author is known locally, was personally responsible for the decision to sue the museum.
The answer to that question is complicated, but it appears to involve Lee’s 102-year-old sister, Alice, and a close associate, an attorney who happens to be married to a relative of Truman Capote.