Maycomb, Alabama is the fictional home town of the Finches, and is the setting of the vast majority of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maycomb is a small, hot and sleepy town where the residents are privy to the details of each other's lives. The atmosphere of Maycomb is relaxed and inward-looking: "there was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County".
Although Maycomb is portrayed as a safe place, where everyone left their houses unlocked, this peace is undercut by a deeply-felt, violent racism which divides its white and African-American populations.
In the 1930s, America suffered the prolonged economic disaster known as the Great Depression. Unemployment was widespread, especially in Southern and rural communities such as the one portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird. The depression led to economic migration, as depicted in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It also helped bring about the end of Prohibition, the attempt, led by the Temperance movement, to ban alcohol in the United States.
The Deep South of America, including Alabama, had a very different culture to the North. It retained strong memories of defeat in the American Civil War, and it is to this day a considerably more Christian society, with religion playing an important part in everyday life. The legacy of the Civil War, combined with the severe economic pressure, also heightened racial tensions in the South. The South operated a policy of Segregation which did not end until the 1960s.
Alabama lies in the south-eastern United States. A strongly Christian state, it had 4.6 million residents in 2006.
Alabama is nicknamed "The Heart of Dixie". The Dixie states are those that wanted to secede from the Union to form the Confederate States of America during the civil war. The war was largely fought over the issue of slavery, which had been banned although the economy of the South relied upon slave labour.
Farmers settled in Alabama in the 1820s and 1830s to take advantage of its fertile soil. Planters and traders from the Upper South brought slaves with them, expanding the cotton plantations. According to the 1860 census, enslaved Africans comprised 45% of the state's population. There was also a population of poor white subsistence farmers.
After the Southern Confederates lost the Civil War, they were required to free their African-American slaves. But much of the South was still dependent on a rural economy centered on cotton. Plantation owners sought to re-establish controls over African-Americans. They instituted Jim Crow Laws to separate white and African-American economic, educational and social institutions, and ensured that those used by the black population were far inferior to those of white Americans; they also instituted segregation to reduce the freedoms of African-Americans and restore their own dominance. There were no laws to protect against racism, and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan – founded by veterans of the Confederate Army – attacked and killed African-Americans.
In 1901, legislation effectively disfranchised African-Americans through voting restrictions. By 1941, a total of 520,000 black people had lost their rights and privileges. This disfranchisement was reversed by the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King. In the 1960s, Federal legislation was passed to protect African-American voting and civil rights.
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