Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson

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Student Question

Which famous novel was written in Monroe County, AL, and how does it relate to Just Mercy?

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The novel that was written about Monroe County, Alabama is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, one of the most famous modern American novels. The setting is the fictional town of Maycomb, which is based on Monroeville, where Lee grew up. Monroeville is the county seat of Monroe County.

To Kill a Mockingbird is extremely relevant to the themes that Bryan Stephenson treats in Just Mercy. These themes include racism in society and racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Within those inequalities, the similarities include the relationships between defense attorneys, many of whom are white, and the people they defend, many of whom are black. Lee’s novel takes place in the 1930s, when juries almost always were completely composed of white people, so the idea of a jury of one’s peers was out of reach for most black people on trial.

In Lee’s novel as in the case of Walter McMillan that Stevenson presents, a black man—a character named Tom Robinson—was accused of a crime related to a white woman. In the fictional case, the woman accused the man of raping her. In the McMillan case, the man was accused of murdering the woman. Robinson was convicted of rape, which was a capital crime, and incarcerated pending appeal by his white lawyer; he attempted escape and was killed. Stevenson focuses on the death penalty and also presents numerous other cases in which it has been applied.

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