Being able to write, and to read, whatever we chose if a gift that the American forefathers knew to be so important they listed it as the very first Amendment to the US Constitution. yet, for years, there are those who have sought to ban books whose words or thoughts were deemed unfit. We must ask ourselves, unfit by whom? Whose standards are we to judge the worthiness of the written word? It should be only our own individual standards by which we decide what is good to read and what isn't. The following is a partial list of some of the most beloved books ever written that others deemed wrong or bad and sought to destroy. How many of them have you read? This list includes several of my personal favorites.
1. J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. This classic has been read by many a school child. It is a coming-of-age story that has long been considered too controversial. In 1960, an Oklahoma teacher was fired for assigning the reading of this book to her 11th grade English class. Numerous school boards have banned it because of its language and sexual content.
2. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. This is a Pulitzer-prizing novel about the Joad family that has been burned and banned since its release in 1939. It's been labeled as "obscene and libelous" for its use of language. If you've read the book, or seen the film starring Henry Fonda, you know that this Depression-era story isn't only a well-written tale, but it is also an accurate account and a great reminder of the dark days of the 1930's.
3. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. This beloved classic is one of my personal favorites. Written in 1961, this is another Pulitzer-prize winning novel that has been banned for language. It's the story of racism in the Deep South, as told by Scout, a young girl whose lawyer father courageously defends a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. The story, and the message are as powerful today as they were over 60 years ago. if you haven't read this book, I urge you to do so. or, at the least, watch the film by the same name starring the incomparable Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the brave attorney.
4. George Orwell's 1984. This dystopian novel set in 1984 was written in 1949. It was written to depict what author Orwell saw as serious threats from the then-budding Soviet Union. In 1981 it was challenged in a Florida school district for being "pro-Communist and being too sexual in nature." Winston Smith, the story's protagonist, defies a ban on individuality and dares to express his thoughts in a diary. So much of what we see happening in the world today is reminiscent of this powerful and often-frightening book. Freedom to be who we are and think as we will is a basic human right that Dr. King so eloquently spoke about all those years ago. It'a message we must be willing to fight for.
Other books on the banned list of classics include; F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, James Joyce's Ulysses, Toni Morrison's Beloved, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and Vladmir Nabokov's Lolita.
Free speech is essential for growth, for learning, and for creativity. It is a fundamental right necessary for any society to develop and progress. Those of us who have this right need to be guardians of it for all future generations. Thank you, Dr. King, for reminding us of our right to stand up against oppression in all its ugly forms.