Book Banning: What Would Mark Twain and Martin Luther King, Jr. Say Today?
By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, at American Public University
During 2016, several newspaper and TV news accounts reported on people wanting to ban two books from public school libraries — Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Both books touch on the theme of racism.
As we approach the anniversary of Dr. King’s birthday, I wonder what he would have thought about reading these two books in today’s public schools? How would he compare them to the books that were read in public schools in his era?
Our language, personal ethics and morals have changed over the last 200 years in this country. So are those two books literary classics or just a slice of the American pie of cultural growth? Are they just part of our history? Is there offensive language in these two novels? That depends on your particular definition of what is offensive.
Should We Judge Books by Their Eras or Their Writers?
For public schools to even consider a ban on these two books smacks of an affront to freedom of speech. Yes, there is racial language in these novels that ought not to be used.
But in each case the story of a time and place in a piece of fiction does what it is supposed to do. It stirs our imagination, makes us think about right and wrong, and gives us a foundation upon which to build a better future for all girls and boys.
If Mark Twain and Martin Luther King, Jr. were examining these books, what would they say to each other? I imagine they would nod in disapproval of the calls to ban them and recognize each other as agents of change in different times.
They might even give thanks that the U.S. is still a free country and that we have made progress away from bigotry by electing an African-American president.
Enjoy these books for what they tell us about the human condition. And be inspired by Dr. King’s vision of dreams that he wanted to come true.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a professor of transportation and logistics at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.