Opinion | Special Alabama: Harper Lee

Titled “Alabama is a Big Front Porch” by legendary Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Wyndham, this week I continue to share some personal political stories with you .

As many of you know, I have been friends with our iconic veteran U.S. Senator Richard Shelby for nearly four years. History will reveal that Senator Shelby was Alabama’s greatest U.S. senator and folks, which is to say mouth-watering because we have some great people. We have a great group of senators, including Lister Hill, John Sparkman, John Bankhead and Howell Heflin and Shelby. As chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Shelby brings hundreds of millions of dollars to Alabama. It takes a book or volumes to tell the heroic story of Shelby bringing Bacon home to his beloved state. He will serve 36 years in the Senate this year.

Two of my favorite Alabamas and loyal friends are former Congressman and current University of South Alabama President Joe Bonner and Dora James of Opelika, one of the best ladies in the state. I visit these two friends almost every week. They kindly read the column and gave me feedback.

Jo Bonner embodies the mantra of being a true Southern gentleman. He was admired and loved across the state more than he could have imagined.

Dora James is the epitome of a true Southern lady. She is admired and respected in Lee County. She is a true philanthropist, humble, kind, and truly sweet. About seven years ago, she held signings for me at Auburn and Opelika, and each drew hundreds, not because of me, but because of her.

Speaking of memorable book signing events, there was a huge event hosted by the people of Jasper and Walker County, and Congressman Robert Arderholt was kind enough to come from Washington to introduce me. Over the years, I have had a special closeness and connection with the people of Jasper/Walker County who read my column in the Daily Mountain Eagle. They have a rich political legacy with Bankheads, Carl Elliott, Tom Bevill and more.

To show my age and when I wrote this column, it seems like every state senator I know says, “Please don’t write bad things about me because my mom reads your column religiously every week and has It’s been decades.”

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Speaking of books, I had the opportunity to meet and visit Nelle Harper Lee, the legendary author of To Kill a Mockingbird. The people of Monroeville knew her well from their generation, and they called her “Nell.” Although she purchased an apartment in New York in the 1960s when her book was published, Nelle Harper Lee spent her entire life in Monroeville. She lives with Biel’s older sister, Alice. I heard that Alice was the first female attorney in Alabama. She was one of Monroeville’s most famous lawyers and lived to be in her 100s. Neither Alice nor Nell was married.

Nelle Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the five most read and purchased books in history. Monroeville seniors told me it was all a fable. This is just the story of Harper Lee growing up in Monroeville. All characters are real, even Boo Radley.

One day a few years ago, Harper Lee messaged me that she liked and read my weekly column in Monroe Magazine and wanted to meet me. I went to Monroeville and we greeted each other and she gave me a book she signed. I thank her and tell her that many more people buy and read than I do. She was a seldom-talker and was known for her privacy and seclusion. In essence, the only thing she said to me was, “You’re taller than you look in the picture.”

I appreciate her time and visits and books. Back in the car, I called my eldest daughter, a lawyer in Birmingham, and said, “I know you’ll pile up my books and throw them away when I die, but there’s one you might want to save.”

We’ll continue to tell more stories next week.

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