Nelle Harper Lee wrote a seminal work of fiction in the 20th century: To Kill A Mockingbird. It would be the only published work the Alabama author would give to the world, but it was more than enough.
The book was ground-breaking in so many ways. Published at a time (1960) when the eyes of America, and indeed the world, were focused on civil rights in the South, where the shameful ugliness of racism was brought front and center into the living rooms of millions of people and its dastardly proponents – Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, and the Ku Klux Klan, to name just a few – spewed their vitriol in thick-tongued, ignorant voices that I sincerely hope (a lot of this happened, including this book, before I was born) embarrassed and discomfited most Southerners, To Kill A Mockingbird showed a decent South, a fair South, a kind South, and a principled South in stark contrast to what was played out as the South in the rest of the media.
Harper Lee wrote against the tide of her time and of her state of birth. That act took courage. That act took fortitude. And that act took strength.
Lee was unprepared, in large part because of her temperament, for the crush of publicity and visibility that the immediate success of To Kill A Mockingbird brought with it. The author vowed, after a short uncomfortable stint in the limelight in the year after the novel’s publication, never to publish anything again.
Lee left New York and returned to live with her older sister, Alice Lee, in their hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where the author lived a quiet, reclusive, and insular life, hidden from the public view.
Alice, an attorney, handled all the publishing and legal affairs around it, for Harper until Alice’s death in November 2014 at the age of 103.
Harper suffered a stroke several years prior to Alice’s death and the stroke caused enough neurological damage to begin Harper’s journey into dementia. Additionally, she had become profoundly deaf and was almost blind at the time of Alice’s death.
Three months after Alice’s death, Tonia Carter, an attorney with Alice’s law firm in Monroeville (who had taken control of Harper’s affairs – whether sanctioned by Alice or simply because she could is unknown), announced the “sudden” appearance of a new Harper Lee manuscript (entitled Go Set A Watchman) that Harper had “forgotten about,” but had agreed to publish now that it had been discovered.
For those of us who knew Harper Lee’s testimony that she would never publish a book again, this threw up many red flags. Because I knew that Harper had suffered a stroke and was on the dementia journey, I got angry because I knew she was being taken advantage of and somebody – Tonia Carter and others – were guilty of elder abuse and cashing in on the name and legacy of someone who was helpless to fight it (and with Alice gone, had no advocate to fight for her) and who was not involved in any way, shape or form with this book.
A horrendous act of fraud against Harper Lee and on the reading public was perpetuated and nobody batted an eye (the book was an instant bestseller, but it was not Lee’s writing, and it destroyed everything that To Kill A Mockingbird had created).
This fraud and elder abuse against Harper Lee is not just my opinion. It’s an open secret.
For anyone who will take the time to think critically about the author, about the events after her sister’s death, when Harper was totally vulnerable physically and mentally, and do the research (I have from day 1 of that announcement), it’s clear that Tonia Carter, along with many others, are guilty of elder abuse against Harper Lee at the very least.
It is reprehensible. It is a crime. And it is inhuman and inhumane.
Would that I could take every vulnerable person in our society into my arms and under my wings for protection, care, and advocacy, because I would do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I don’t have the kind of resources that would require, but if I did, that would be my life’s work.
I have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior toward the vulnerable among us. And Harper Lee was one of those in her final years.
Harper Lee died on February 19, 2016.