Ban on Ralph Ellison’s Invisble Man Rescinded in North Carolina

invisible-manEarlier this week, CBLDF protested the ban of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man by the Randolph County Board of Education in North Carolina. After the protest that erupted in response to the ban, the school board staged a special meeting on Wednesday to review the decision, ultimately voting to overturn the ban.

Last week, the Randolph County Board of Education banned Invisible Man throughout the district despite two review committees’ recommendations that the book be retained. The book was on a summer reading list, but was not required reading and alternate selections were available.

David Zucchino with the Los Angeles Times reported on overturned ban:

The backlash caught board members by surprise. Several said they had been inundated with emails begging them to reconsider. Others conceded that they had acted rashly and should have consulted with the superintendent and rank-and-file teachers in the 16,000-student district, about 85 miles northeast of Charlotte.

The ban was instituted after parent Kimiyutta Parson submitted a detailed 12-page complaint (you can read the entire complaint here) that excerpted passages depicting rape, sex, and profanity. But in focusing on minutiae that she found offensive, Parson missed the point of the novel and disregarded the work as a whole. Parson described the novel as “…not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers,” and called for its immediate removal from the library.

Zucchino reports on the special session:

The meeting, in a packed boardroom, lasted only 45 minutes. The vote to rescind the ban took a few seconds, with only board member Gary Mason dissenting. He called the book “not appropriate for young teenagers.”

CBLDF joined a coalition of free speech advocates to protest the ban. School board members related how the protest opened their eyes to how misguided the ban was. From the LA Times:

Board Chairman Tommy McDonald said the torrent of emails he received was “very enlightening,’’ although a few were “downright vulgar and very hurtful.’’ The backlash made him realize, he said, that “my job is to make sure that book is there whether I want to read it or not.”

Board member Tracy Boyles, who voted for the original ban but joined in  rescinding it Wednesday, choked back tears as he said his son had been in combat overseas in the Air Force, “fighting for those freedoms that I’m here passing a vote to take away.’’

At Wednesday’s meeting, board member Matthew Lambeth apologized for voting to ban the book without consulting the board’s lawyer or the district superintendent. He said the board had made an honest, if poorly informed, mistake.

The overturn of the ban is a victory for free speech, and CBLDF applauds the decision to restore Invisible Man to classrooms and libraries in Randolph County!

CBLDF is a sponsor of Banned Books Week. Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!