Harper Lee’s response to a young reader named Jeremy was only three lines long.
Jeremy had sent a note to the author hoping for a signed photograph. He wouldn’t get that.
“I don’t have a picture of myself,” Ms. Lee wrote to the young reader in June 2006. She was 80 then, four and a half decades past her one and only To Kill a Mockingbird, five decades past working as a New York airline agent who wrote at night on a desk made out of a door in an apartment with no hot water.
But despite not having a photo, the author from a tiny patch of southern Alabama named Monroeville offered Jeremy these few lines.
“As you grow up,” she wrote, “always tell the truth.” Honesty and its close companion integrity were important to her. Four and a half decades earlier, she wrote – perhaps on that door desk – that a person’s conscience is the only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule.
“Do no harm to others,” Ms. Lee continued to Jeremy, “and don’t think you are the most important being on earth.”
The way Harper Lee saw it, earth – from Monroeville to New York to anywhere else – didn’t have important folks and unimportant folks. There was, as the millions who read To Kill a Mockingbird knew, “just one kind of folks. Folks.”
And so she wrote her third and final line to Jeremy: “Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.'”