The Courage of Atticus Finch & Jackie Robinson

Only by coincidence did two works come together for me today. First, after work I finished reading a book I’ve been working on for about a week: Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of 50 Years of To Kill a Mockingbird by Mary McDonagh Murphy. This book features essays from dozens of writers about their reaction and memories from reading the classic novel.

I’m a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is my role model as a man and father. His gentle manner, his humble service, his bravery in the face of violent attacks: I can’t think of a more noble character in literature.

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One of Atticus’s most memorable quotes deals with courage being when you know you are going to lose before you begin, but you begin anyway.

Then, this evening I saw the new movie 42 with my son Matthew. The film is a powerful telling of the life of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Jackie’s manager Branch Rickey warns Jackie that being the first African-American player in baseball is going to bring many attacks. Rickey tells Jackie that he needs to keep his composure when attacked or people will use his lack of composure as “evidence” that Black players don’t belong in MLB. At one point Jackie and his manager Rickey have this exchange:

Rickey: “I know you’re a good ballplayer. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.”

Robinson: “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?”

Rickey, exploding: “Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”

I think sometimes we focus way too much on being strong and tough and firm. To me, some of the strongest people in the world are those who are humble and meek. Bravery is more than putting oneself in harm’s way. Bravery is having the conviction of character to do the right thing, particularly when you are standing alone. Sometimes the easiest thing to do when attacked is to fight back. Courage is turning the other cheek.

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