Abstract

Abstract:

This essay argues for reading William Melvin Kelley’s A Different Drummer (1962) as the first significant challenge to the racial politics of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) and as a prescient call to dislodge Lee’s novel from the heart of the American racial imaginary. Reconfiguring tropes central to Mockingbird and anticipating recent reappraisals of Atticus Finch, Drummer’s white-narrated tale of enigmatic black revolutionary Tucker Caliban unsettles the racial metanarratives that circulate through Mockingbird and, in the process, questions their surprising prominence in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. In particular, Drummer rejects the vaunting of virtuous black sacrifice, the idealization of white liberal heroism, and the unequal application of racial innocence, in which whites enjoy the privilege of getting to be innocent while black victims of racial violence bear the burden of having to be.

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