Many reasons have been given for banning To Kill a Mockingbird. But after reading this classic novel and seeing all the charges levied against the book, it seems clear there is a desire by some to forget strong racial prejudice against Black people once existed in the South. This book can sometimes be as unsettling to Black readers as it is to other readers. But if this helps to uproot lingering racism where it still exists, maybe that is worth it.
To Kill a Mockingbird challenges and bans
- Challenged in Eden Valley, MN (1977) and temporarily banned due to words “damn” and “whore lady” used in the novel.
- Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy novel.”
- Challenged at the Warren, IN Township schools (1981) because the book does “psychological damage to the positive integration process” and “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” After unsuccessfully trying to ban Lee’s novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory council.
- Challenged in the Waukegan, IL School District (1984) because the novel uses the word “nigger.”
- Challenged in the Kansas City, MO junior high schools (1985). Challenged at the Park Hill, MO Junior High School (1985) because the novel “contains profanity and racial slurs.” Retained on a supplemental eighth grade reading list in the Casa Grande, AZ Elementary School District (1985), despite the protests by black parents and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who charged the book was unfit for junior high use.
- Challenged at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools (1995) because of its racial themes. Removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA (1995) because the book’s language and content were objectionable.
- Challenged at the Moss Point, MS School District (1996) because the novel contains a racial epithet. Banned from the Lindale, TX advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book “conflicted with the values of the community.”
- Challenged by a Glynn County, GA (2001) School Board member because of profanity. The novel was retained. Returned to the freshman reading list at Muskogee, OK High School (2001) despite complaints over the years from black students and parents about racial slurs in the text.
- Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High School’s sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans.
- Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, NC (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word “nigger.”
- Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.” The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.”
- Retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, NJ Board of Education (2007). A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression. The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it.
- Removed (2009) from the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton Ontario, Canada because a parent objected to language used in the novel, including the word “nigger.”
A look inside the book
To Kill a Mockingbird opens in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression. Scout Finch is already a smart, independent girl at six years of age who gradually becomes aware of racism in the American South during the three years that this moving story unfolds. Her widowed father, Atticus Finch, is a prominent lawyer who raises Scout and her brother Jem to be considerate and fair to others. He makes a point of telling them it’s “a sin to kill a mockingbird” since they are innocent creatures who cause no harm.
A local Black man named Tom Robinson becomes falsely charged with raping a white woman and desperately turns to Atticus to defend him. A storm of threats from local people soon engulfs them both. Atticus even has to face down an unruly mob that wants to lynch Tom, but the lawyer stands by him and Scout innocently rescues them both.
At trial Atticus makes a convincing argument that the woman was raped by her father. Even so, Tom is convicted of the crime. When the unjustly-convicted man tries to escape he is killed. An onlooker says the man’s death is like “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” a recurring reference in the book.
Scout and Jem go on to have a direct experience with prejudice involving Boo Radley, a shy young man who is unwittingly involved with murder. Without saying how the story plays out, it is sufficient to mention Scout stands by the young man. As she puts it, punishing him for being caught up in this thing would be “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.”
Why Is “To Kill a Mockingbird” Banned?
While many reasons have been given for banning To Kill a Mockingbird, they primarily involve the clear depiction of strong racial prejudice against Black people which existed in the 1930s. This novel can sometimes be as unsettling to Black readers as it is to other readers. But if this helps to uproot lingering racism where it still exists, perhaps that is worth it.
The content of this website is drawn from the banned-books research of historian Sanford Holst