The Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame held their 48th installation ceremony Thursday, where they inducted Nelle Harper Lee and Milly Francis.
Judson College, an all women’s college located in Marion, Alabama, holds the hall of fame that was started in 1970 “to provide a permanent place of honor for Alabama’s most outstanding women and a place for people to visit and learn about the significant contributions that these women have made to our state and nation,” according to www.awhf.org.
Beloved Alabama author, Harper Lee, who passed away on Feb. 19, 2016, was honored last week for the world-wide influence made from her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Lee was a native of Monroeville, Alabama, attended Huntington College and The University of Alabama before moving to New York City.
While in New York, Lee met her life-long friends Michael and Joy Brown, who helped and encouraged her to finish and publish the novel that was voted the “Great American Read” in 2018. Joy Brown attended the ceremony in Marion and discussed the friendship, letters and antics that she and her husband shared with Lee.
Joy said she and Michael were astounded by the stories, characters and scenes that Lee scribbled down and let them read, so, they decided to support her financially for a year to allow her to pursue her writing.
Brown read the last letters and handwritten exchanges that she and Nelle shared before her passing.
“Even toward the end, she could not resist a light touch,” Brown said Thursday. “She gave something priceless to Michael and me with her friendship.”
Brown, along with Susan Doss and Tonja Carter, unveiled Lee’s plaque that will now have its place in the hall of fame on campus.
Milly Francis, a Creek Indian of European and American Indian descent, was also revealed as the other honoree for the 2019 induction.
According to Alex Colvin, of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Francis was born near the Alabama River in 1802, where her people lived in peace for many years until her family joined the Red Stick movement that fought against the United States for control of the Holy Ground. In 1818, Francis’ tribe became confronted with Duncan McKrimmon, an American soldier from Milledgeville, Georgia that became lost in the woods. Francis intervened as warriors of her tribe prepared to execute him.
Francis was honored last week for the heroism she exhibited in the face of war and removal from her home.
Francis’ plaque was introduced by Colvin, and she was nominated by Eleanor Drake.
After the ceremony concluded, a luncheon was held on campus where Wayne Flynt, author of “Mockingbird Songs: My friendship with Harper Lee,” spoke on the ambiguous friendship that he and his wife, Dorothy, shared with her.
“I will acknowledge that [Dorothy] and I knew Harper Lee and all that means, is that we knew her to the extent that she allowed us to know her,” Flynt said. “And that was not very deep.”
Lee kept her personal life just that, personal and did not open up to many people in her life, he said.
“The real person was the blood of our blood, the flesh of our flesh, Alabama to the core, but as you all know, that means very different things to everyone in this room,” he said.
Flynt also recognized the immense influence that Lee’s novel has throughout the world, even referencing cases in Asia and Eastern Europe, where “To Kill a Mockingbird” is highly revered.
The brilliance of Lee’s famous book lies in what Lee does not reveal about her characters or herself, but the ambiguity that allows readers to make their own decisions about her work and her life, Flynt said.
“When a famous person’s desire for absolute privacy encounters a fan’s preference for absolute transparency, the possibility of misunderstanding and misrepresentation spans exponentially,” Flynt said.
The Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame is located in the A. Howard Bean Hall at Judson College, 302 Bibb St, Marion, Alabama 36756.