On a bright October Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Rosa Parks' body rested temporarily in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, the 30th American and first woman to be honored there in death. At the same time, Philip Seymour Hoffman played Truman Capote starkly on a matinee screen in nearby Arlington.
Both Mrs. Parks and Capote had spent time in Alabama. One was an everyday seamstress who, 50 years ago, wanted to ride home unbothered on a bus; the other an eccentric writer abandoned as a child who lassoed a crime story he had to write. Both Rosa Parks and Truman Capote knew how to sew. He fastened non-fiction to the novel; it changed, some say, how modern authors write. She used simpler stitches: the words "No, I'm not." Three words that triggered the needlework of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the center square on the quilt of the modern Civil Rights movement.
Capote's research and writing of In Cold Blood took six years to complete. He knew exactly what he was doing. After 42 years of segregation, Mrs. Parks simply refused one day to move to the back of the bus, unmindful of the consequences it would create.
Capote wrote brilliantly: "Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there."
Mrs. Parks said simply: "It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in."
Fame came for both. They say Truman Capote's actions spawned a pact with the devil, his narcissism eventually trampling his talent. Mrs. Parks sought only to be treated decently as a citizen of this country. Truman Capote made millions from the sale of this novel, yet its creation brought him to moral ruin. Mrs. Parks' small action ignited a national inquiry into our moral filaments. Afterwards, she still sewed, quietly, taking care of her husband and mother.
Capote was accompanied to Kansas by Nelle Harper Lee, his childhood friend who wrote one of our best novels, To Kill a Mockingbird. The little boy Dill in the story is Capote in short pants. She also created one of our most memorable characters in fiction, the lawyer Atticus Finch, a man who had the courage to continue to fight even though he knew he was going to lose. She was the one who forced Capote to see Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the two real life murderers he had manipulated and lied to to get his story, twenty minutes before one died by hanging from the neck in a Kansas prison warehouse. She was Capote's moral compass and wanted this one action to mirror back to him his own.
As we know, he finished his book, but in the end, many have commented that he was never the same. Why was he writing? Because he couldn't help himself? Was it thinly diguised to be for the good of others, or just for himself?
"I truthfully feel none of us have anyone to blame for whatever we have done with our own personal lives. But we have very little control over our human weaknesses...for we all have weaknesses. In your case -- I don't know what your weakness is but I do feel -- IT IS NO SHAME TO HAVE A DIRTY FACE -- THE SHAME COMES WHEN YOU KEEP IT DIRTY.
--from In Cold Blood