Lee Letter to the Editor

Lee, Harper. Letter. The Richmond News Leader. 14 January 1966: p. 14.

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.

The Hanover County School Board got more than it bargained for after deciding to censor Harper Lee's classic novel of Southern race relations, To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel, decried as "immoral" and "improper," was removed from the shelves of county school libraries by unanimous vote in 1966. In response, the Richmond News Leader offered to send free copies of the book to the first 50 school children who requested a copy. These books were paid for out of the Beadle Bumble Fund, a newspaper fund taking its name from the memorable character in Dickens' Oliver Twist and formed for the purpose of "redressing the stupidities of public officials." All 50 copies were given away. To add to the embarrassment of the Hanover School Board, Harper Lee herself wrote a letter to the editor of the News Leader, including a donation to the Beadle Bumble Fund "to be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice."

How should authors respond to censorship? Was Lee's sarcasm out of line?

Cheatham Letter

Typed letter, signed, with envelope from W.A. Plecker to John Powell. 7 June 1933. 2pp.

From the John Powell Collection.

The 1970s saw other Virginia school board decisions to remove books from school curricula--followed again by public challenges. In February of 1970 in Fluvanna County, a fledgling high-school program aimed at incorporating African-American history into history classes was scuttled several weeks before it was to end. Some parents objected to texts such as those listed above because of concerns about "vile language" and the appropriateness of bringing up "incidents which happened a hundred years ago." The school board meeting in which this drama played out was attended by 250 people. White students spoke tearfully in favor of the program and the books, saying that the course provided an avenue for better understanding between the races. (The integration of the public schools had only been achieved that school year.) Those who spoke against the program, including a county supervisor, indicated that they had a "fear of subversive activity." Some African-American parents also objected to the selected books on the grounds that the works portrayed African Americans in a negative light.

House Bill no. 25 [1924]

Page 1, House Bill, No. 25. A Bill to Amend and Re-Enact Section 5074 of the Code of Virginia, in Relation to Marriage Licenses. [1924]

A 1924 Virginia law criminalizing marriage between the races gave Walter Plecker, the Registrar for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1914 to 1946, powers to enforce a unique form of censorship. Plecker regularly changed the race classification on the birth certificates of Native Americans to "Negro," ensuring that they would not be able to circumvent the law and marry Caucasians. These letters speak to the depth of his feelings. They are drawn from his correspondence with University of Virginia professor John Powell, an accomplished musician and founder of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, dedicated to "preserving racial integrity."