Parents claim racism in Harper Lee’s Alabama hometown

By Desiree Hunter, AP

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A south Alabama town that was the inspiration for the setting in Harper Lee’s book “To Kill a Mockingbird” is finding itself as the backdrop for a real-life legal case involving allegations of racism at school.

The parents of several black junior high school students have filed a discrimination lawsuit claiming their children are subject to racial slurs and punished more harshly than white students at Monroeville Junior High School. The lawsuit says black students at the county’s only public junior high have been called slurs such as the “N-word,” “filthy trash” and “black monkey.” Their parents also say classes are segregated, with most black students being kept out of advanced placement and honors courses. The action, originally filed in August, was revived this week by the American Civil Liberties Union in U.S. Southern District Court on behalf of nine students. It names the Monroe County Board of Education, Monroeville Junior High principal Lana Wilson, county superintendent Dennis Mixon, and the five-member school board. “I just feel like every student should have the right to a decent education regardless of race, creed or color,” said Tangelia Yates, a parent involved in the lawsuit whose son is an eighth grader. “We need to make sure that that happens within the Alabama school system, particularly Monroe County.” Monroeville, more than 80 miles southwest of Montgomery, is the hometown of “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee, whose coming-of-age tale discusses racism and injustice in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. The carefully restored Old Courthouse, which was built in 1903, draws sold-out crowds to its auditorium each spring for a two-act adaptation of Lee’s novel. The courthouse draws tourists who have fallen in love with the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which looks at racism through the eyes of a tenacious tomboy named Scout. Everette Price, an attorney in nearby Brewton, has directed the “Mockingbird Players” in their springtime productions since 1994 and said it’s easy to see why such allegations would be considered more egregious in a city with Monroeville’s history. “It’s going to catch somebody’s eyes faster in Monroeville than say if somebody made the same allegations in Brewton,” Price said Friday.