Atticus Finch, In Context

One summer night in 1955, Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Chicago boy visiting relatives in Mississippi, was abducted by two white men, beaten, and shot; his body was tied to a fan from a cotton gin and thrown in a river. Emmett’s “crime”: being black and allegedly whistling at a white woman. Through the early 1970s, hundreds of black men had been “legally” executed after being convicted, usually by all white juries or white judges, of sexually assaulting white women; hundreds more were lynched and otherwise extrajudicially executed. This is the historical context of white supremacy essentially ignored by Professor Lubet in his cleverly written critique of Atticus Finch: Lubet’s review contains a number of other discrepancies and flaws, but space limits my discussion to the most obvious. First, despite Lubet’s repeated assertions, Tom Robinson’s defense to the rape charge was never consent. The consent defense admits sexual intercourse but denies the use of force. Even if true, such a defense was not a practical alternative for a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama or anywhere else in the United States. In fact, Robinson’s defense was that no sexual intercourse of any kind had occurred, that the charge of rape was a lie.