Removing ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is erasing history


Amelia Detwiler

Removing ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is erasing history

By Editorial Board

A Mississippi school board has taken away a valuable opportunity to learn about America’s racism from its students.

The Biloxi School District pulled Harper Lee’s literary classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” from eighth grade reading lists. School Board Vice President Kenny Holloway told the Sun Herald Oct. 12 that “there is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” It is not clear whether the decision will be effective in the classrooms immediately, but the book will still be available in the junior high school’s library, Holloway said. 

Holloway and other school board members did not explain what was so objectionable about the novel, which is an enduring commentary on Southern racism, but some have speculated the book’s use of the N-word has raised the concerns. 

Lee’s book takes place in Depression-era small-town Alabama, where young Scout Finch is exposed to virulent racism as her father Atticus, a lawyer, defends a black man falsely accused of rape. 

Lee uses the fictional town of Maycomb to mirror the country’s toxic heritage of racism. Just five years before the book’s 1960 release, 14-year-old Emmett Till was savagely murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The story of Tom Robinson—the man Atticus Finch represents in court—was a story black America knew by heart but white America never acknowledged. 

Despite the widespread acclaim the book received after its release, including winning a 1961 Pulitzer Prize, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the most frequently censored novels in education. Schools banning the book have claimed the novel is immoral, conflicts with community values or is inappropriate because of the use of racially charged language. 

Ignoring “To Kill a Mockingbird” does not protect students from unsuitable content but does attempt to erase the history Lee wrote about, making it more difficult for young people to confront the nation’s dark, racist underbelly.

The Biloxi school board reasoned that the book didn’t belong in classrooms because it causes discomfort, but students should be uncomfortable with racism and the people who are free to propagate it.

Ironically, under a guise of preserving history, a 2013 Mississippi law prohibits the removal of any structures that honor historical military figures or events, including the Civil War and Confederate soldiers. In Mississippi, it is considered a dangerous act of censorship to remove slavery’s proponents from their pedestals, but removing an educational account of how racism can manifest is not. 

In times like these, as white supremacists roam the streets and spew their hatred freely, America’s youth has a dire need to learn from works like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

No matter how uncomfortable young people feel while reading the book, they will put down the book with a new sense of empathy.

As Atticus Finch says in the classic novel, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”