Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Book Week in Oregon continues: In which Harper Lee has a suggestion for the Hanover County School Board

It began badly for the HCSB:
The Hanover County School Board got more than it bargained for after deciding to censor Harper Lee's classic novel of Southern race relations, To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel, decried as "immoral" and "improper," was removed from the shelves of county school libraries by unanimous vote in 1966. In response, the Richmond News Leader offered to send free copies of the book to the first 50 school children who requested a copy. These books were paid for out of the Beadle Bumble Fund, a newspaper fund taking its name from the memorable character in Dickens' Oliver Twist and formed for the purpose of "redressing the stupidities of public officials." All 50 copies were given away.
And let me note parenthetically that if The Oregonian, Oregon's four-day-a-week newspaper of record, had a Beadle Bumble Fund (which also paid the fines of those the News Leader's editor considered victims of “despots on the bench”), I might consider resubscribing. Moving on:

Sadly for the decency-lovin' guardians of Virginian morality, the unexpected publicity of this case brought to light the awkward fact that over the years the state board of education had arbitrarily, and without public notice, prevented thousands of books from being placed on the approved reading list for public schools – the word “censorship,” in its most blameworthy sense, is entirely appropriate.

And back in Hanover County, Virginia, things weren't getting any better for the school board. The following letter soon appeared in The News Leader:
Monroeville, Alabama
January, 1966

Editor, The News Leader:

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that "To Kill a Mockingbird" spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is "immoral" has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

Harper Lee

Thereby reaffirming this blog's long-held belief that the best weapon against attacks on free expression is more free expression.

The Hanover County School Board eventually rescinded its ban on To Kill a Mockingbird.


watercarrier4diogenes said...

But... but... what about the rest of those 'thousands' of books they surreptitiously banned??? Anybody got a list?

Nothstine said...

Watercarrier4diogenes! It's been too long. Hope all's well.

As for your question, I imagine you're teasing a little, but I did wonder about it myself.

I suspect the answer is lost to years of bad file keeping by the VA board of education. After all, if it wasn't important enough to mention, would it be important enough to file?

I thought about checking the archives for the Richmond News Leader, but that paper folded in 1992. Pity.

watercarrier4diogenes said...

Detroit's proving that it's too expensive to store even the good ones, especially if they're a special collection of important (and no doubt, rare)books on African-American history.

And yeah, I wuz just bein' a tad snarky. Too bad about the News Leader folding back in '92. I wonder if they saw the present-day home-town newspaper situation coming. (/snark)

Nothstine said...

The Detroit story just broke my heart. I know there are people who would have rented a van and put it all in storage or SOMETHING just to avoid what happened . . .

I'd love to win the lottery and be able to piss people off by doing things like rescuing rare books on African American history.

watercarrier4diogenes said...

I've had very similar lottery dreams. The kids are all educated now, and I don't need a lot to survive nicely on, 'cept maybe a bit more travel money. The rest, I could raise a lot of hell and eyebrows with. 8^)