A central North Carolina school district voted to remove Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” from county school libraries this week.
The Randolph County Board of Education voted 5-2 Monday to
suppress the seminal 1952 work on the oppressive social climate
that African Americans faced in the early 20th century.
The book was originally flagged by the parent of an 11th grader at Randleman High School, who found the language and sexual content of the book objectionable.
Despite recommendations against outlawing the book from libraries by school- and district-level committees, the Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of a ban.
Those who voted in support of the book’s removal were Board Chair Tommy McDonald and members Tracy Boyles, Gary Cook, Matthew Lambeth, and Gary Mason. Voting against the action were Board Vice Chair Emily Coltrane and member Todd Cutler.
Before the vote took place, a motion to keep the book in district libraries was introduced. It failed by a 2-5 vote.
All board members were given copies to read before the vote. Board Chair McDonald said “it was a hard read.”
Mason said, “I didn’t find any literary value” and objected to the book’s language. “I’m for not allowing it to be available,” he added.
A school district official said ahead of the vote that ‘Invisible Man’ was just one of many options in school libraries, and that no student was forced to read it. She also stressed that the state Department of Public Instruction approved the book for student consumption.
‘Invisible Man’ was one of three books that Randleman High School juniors-to-be in the 2013-14 school year could choose to read for the summer. ‘Black Like Me’ by John Howard Griffin and ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen were the students’ other choices. Honors students had to choose two of the three books.
A request for reconsideration of instructional media was filed by Kimiyutta Parson.
“The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life,” she wrote in her reasons for protesting the book’s availability to teens. “This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.”
Parson also expressed dismay at the type of language and sexual content in the book.
Both a six-member school media advisory council and a 10-member district committee agreed the book should stay in school libraries before the Board of Education vote.
The District media committee wrote that it “appreciated the parent’s concern for their child and the interest taken in their education. The District Media Advisory committee unanimously agreed that the book does relate directly to curriculum and RCS should keep the book on the shelf and as a literature piece for instruction.”