Banning ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’? Virginia school pulls books after parent’s complaint


A school district in Virginia has pulled copies of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Mark Twain’s classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” after a parent’s complaint.

The Accomack County school district is considering banning the books from the county’s schools outright, following a complaint from the mother of a biracial high school student over the use of the N-word in the novels.

The mother, Marie Rothstein-Williams, said she believes the books are “great literature,” but said at a school board meeting, “There is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.”


The racial slur in question appears more than 200 times in “Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain’s 1884 satire about racism in pre-Civil War America. The novel frequently appears on the American Library Assn.’s yearly lists of the country’s most challenged or banned books.

The N-word is used almost 50 times in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a 1960 novel about anti-black bigotry in the midcentury American South that has been a staple of school syllabi for 50 years. Lee’s novel has also been subjected to challenges in schools many times since the book’s publication.

Rothstein-Williams said the books’ use in schools would teach children that using the racial slur was acceptable.

“We’re validating that these words are acceptable. They are not acceptable,” she said. “We will lose our children if we continue to say that this is OK, that we validate these words when we should not.”

The suspension of the books didn’t sit will with some residents of Accomack County, dozens of whom protested outside the county courthouse in the town of Accomac, reports Delmarva Now.

Harper Lee, who died Feb. 19, 2016, published "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1960.
Harper Lee, who died Feb. 19, 2016, published “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960.
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images )

Charles Knitter, who helped organize the protest, read a chapter of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the rally.

“We’re not going to be censored, because banning literature is, well, stupid — I don’t have another way to say that,” he said.

Sadye Saunders, a 16-year-old high school junior, agreed with Knitter, and noted that a petition she had started to have the books returned to schools was confiscated by her principal.

“This is important, because censorship blinds us,” Sadye said. “These books are important, because they are not condoning this word, this racial slur ... They’re showing the ignorance of using that word and having this bigotry.”

“Huckleberry Finn” and “Mockingbird” aren’t the only books to face challenges in schools recently. Some parents in the Chicago suburb of Lemont have criticized the local high school’s use of Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” citing the books’ sexual content, the Cook County Chronicle reports.

Lemont resident Rick Ligthart suggested that the school ban any books that contained “literal, metaphorical, figurative or allegorical words for male or female genitals.”

“English classes should not be involved in sexuality in literature for our kids. It shouldn’t be in any books. No books,” he said. “We can’t have 18-year-olds reading about masturbation or sexual issues, regardless of the literature. I don’t care if it’s from Dickens or who else.”

Lemont High School has so far not chosen to ban Roy’s and Angelou’s books from its classrooms or library.

The Accomack County school district will consider whether to ban “Huckleberry Finn” and “Mockingbird” after the novels are reviewed by a special committee.