Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28th, 1926, in the small town of Monroeville in southern Alabama. According to the 1920 and 1930 census statistics, Monroeville would have had just over 1,000 inhabitants when Lee was growing up. Although it is the county seat of Monroe County, the town was hardly more than a village when Lee lived there.
Alabama is located in the part of the United States known as the "Deep South." This area was historically dominated by cotton plantations, which were worked by African American slaves. After President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, many former slaves continued to reside in the areas they had been enslaved in, and Monroeville has a fairly even ratio of white to African American citizens (53% white to 44% African American, according to the 2000 census).
The history of the region meant that for decades after the official end of slavery, most African Americans in the Deep South were still ascribed lower social status than their white counterparts. Racial tensions ran high and often erupted into violence against African Americans perpetrated by their white neighbors.
Much of what Lee experienced growing up in this region in the early twentieth century is present in her famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee based the setting and many of the characters in her novel on her childhood in Monroeville. Consequently, To Kill a Mockingbird is not merely a fictional portrayal of racial tensions in the Deep South in the 1930s; it is also a kind of historical document written by someone who lived through those problems in that place at that time.