Response Essay

Response Essay

In “The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch and the Limits of Southern Liberalism,” Malcolm Gladwell criticizes former governor of Alabama, James “Big Jim” Folsom. He compares him to literary hero Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Most people believe that both were noble people for taking the stance against racism that they did, but Gladwell presents them both in a different, less heroic image. Though I do not personally agree with Gladwell, I do understand why he believes the way that he does.
In the article, Gladwell introduces the reader to “Big Jim” Folsom by providing a brief description of the man himself. He notes that Folsom was a charismatic man who believed in racial equality in time where Jim Crow laws were in full effect. Also, most politicians would not have dared to venture into the deep-south on such a platform, but Folsom made “a proud and lonely stand for racial justice” in many ways such as not segregating the audience who attended his speeches. In Alabama, politics generally had a “friends and neighbors” effect, meaning that people generally voted based on personality rather than political issues and the state was divided into smaller island communities that were each run by a “courthouse ring.” Though he was considered something of a radical for his stance on racism, Folsom was not actually looking for a drastic change—he simply wanted privileged whites to be more amiable to black people. In spite of public disapproval, Folsom invited black congressman, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., to the governor’s mansion because it was “simply good manners.” He did not see why there was such an issue because Americans had been around blacks for many years and would continue to be around them in the future. By no means was Folsom an activist—activists wanted the full force of the law to compel equality in the way that Thurgood Marshall did;   he was just trying to be a decent human being. Gladwell states that Finch is on the “Big Jim” Folsom side...

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