Rooted in Alabama, the legacy of Harper Lee and the ca·mel·lias.
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Three years after the death of local legend and author, To Kill A Mockingbird is still inspiring and reflective of the Southern identity.
By Taylor Stewart, Editor-in-Chief
I used to think that being a Southern woman meant pearls, being a good cook, and having the twangy honey-sweet accent of Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama.
While I still yearn for pearls and learned how to make the best squash casserole from my mama, being a Southern woman is much more than that. You don’t have to be born here to adapt or admire our way of life. The truth is: women across the southeastern region on the United States are making a change.
They are entrepreneurs, artists, writers, doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, the list goes on and on. That’s what we want to showcase in ca·mel·lias. We want to break the stereotype that all Southern women are waiting at home with dinner and taking care of children. We want to celebrate all walks of life, all identities, and the growing diversity of the American South
The camellia is Alabama's state flower and blooms in the winter, between November and March.
So why ca·mel·lias? Isn’t the image of a flower kind of outdated? How can a flower represent all of the women you want to reach out to?
The truth is, not all women identify with flowers, and that’s okay. The reason our staff chose the name “ca·mel·lias” is for two reasons. For one thing, we wanted to stick to our Alabama roots, and the camellia has been the state flower for the past sixty years. The goldenrod, or ‘weed’ as the women of Butler County called it, was the original state flower. That was until a group of women felt that the camellia better represented the state.
The second reason has to do with Alabama’s most beloved novel: To Kill a Mockingbird.
It’s easy to say that Harper Lee is one of my personal literary idols. Growing up in Alabama, the cover of her book or the poster from the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck was plastered on the walls of nearly every English teacher’s classroom. Lee’s words have echoed throughout the United States, if not the world, for decades, which is why we have chosen to honor Lee in this way.
Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, receives Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
The thing you have to understand about Alabama and the American South in general is that there is more than meets the eye. Like the white camellia bush in Lee’s novel, there is a general consensus of the appearance and reputation these flowers have. But we can’t cut the buds and stems away because of the hatred and bigotry we see flashing across our news apps. We, like Jem, have to learn how to conquer our adversities the right way, by pulling them up by the roots.
If Atticus taught us anything it’s that people are not always what they seem. Mrs. Debuse, Jem and Scout’s neighbor, spouted hateful things, but she was courageous for fighting her morphine addiction. By witnessing her resistance, this prompts Jem and Scout to find their own sense of bravery when they fight injustice in the later half of the book.
Atticus tells his children, “I wanted you to see something about her—I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do,” and in many ways, Harper Lee is telling us the same thing.
She is showing us what real courage is, what an honest portrayal of human beings are. That even though the fight isn’t over, we still have to fight it even if there is a slim chance we’ll win.
I hesitate to call Harper Lee the Mother of Alabama Literature, because to me she feels more like a sister. Her story is one that grew with you during the height of your adolescence. It’s a book that you read at a time when at least for me, as a white person, had to look back and think, “Do we want to repeat history, or learn from it and grow?”
I’d like to think that the legacy of Atticus, Jem, Scout, and Tom Robinson brings that question to life for many children An opportunity for growth for young people who can’t completely wrap their minds around racism and how it has become institutionalized in the way our society operates. The people of Maycomb County knew Tom Robinson was innocent but convicted him anyway. The world, sadly, is still full of Tom Robinson's except now their names are Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and many others.
The question we pose, as the staff of ca·mel·lias, is the same that Harper Lee’s story poses; do we want to learn from our history or are we doomed to repeat it out of prejudice and arrogance?
In this magazine we want to shine a light on the women of the South. Their struggles, their ambitions, what their passions are. While doing this we will show what people from the Magic City do best: resist. Whether it’s hate, racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other form of prejudice we will resist and fight together.
Thank you for reading along with us. I hope you continue on with us whether that is online or in print, and may you share your story with us too.