To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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In Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, why do Reverend Sykes and the rest of the community's African Americans stand in deference to Atticus as he leaves the courtroom, despite the fact that Tom Robinson was convicted?

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"Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father's passin'."  These are the words of Reverend Sykes to Scout as her father leaves the courtroom after Tom Robinson's wrongful conviction.  Surely this must be one of the most moving scenes in literature, for although Robinson was wrongly convicted, the jury stayed out for an unprecedented length of time, showing that Atticus had at least planted in their minds the idea that perhaps Robinson should not be convicted even though he was black.  In Alabama in the 1930's, a black accused by a white of anything was considered guilty and could not be proven innocent.  Atticus knew this, but insisted on defending Tom Robinson to the best of his ability, despite the general disapproval on the part of the white townspeople. 

The African-American community realized this, and they realized that Atticus had defied the white status quo when he showed up and made even the slightest effort to defend Robinson; in fact, the evidence was Robinson's innocence was visible to everyone, but it wasn't the evidence that mattered, so much as the color of the defendant.  Atticus gave it everything he had, and the fact that the jury was out as long as it was was even considered a bit of progress in that town; normally, black men were convicted immediately, regardless of what evidence was presented.  The African-American community recognized the risk Atticus had taken to do the right thing, and stood in deference to him as he left the courtroom.  The next day, Atticus's home was inundated with gifts of food and sweets as a "thank you" from the black community, moving Atticus to tears. 


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