North Carolina School Board’s ban of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”


Well, here we go again. With impeccable timing (just in time for Banned Books Week!), a county school board (the picture below is from their website) in North Carolina recently voted 5-2 to remove an acknowledged literary classic, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” from their library and reading list for students. This was after a complaint by a junior student’s mother who submitted the required forms and detailed supporting documentation. (Copies of all this may be found in the source material link below)

When the individual school she registered her complaint with decided not to take any action, she appealed the decision to the Randolph County school board. Her appeal, poorly written, included a ‘warning’ that “I and other companies are looking into other ways of having great attention come to this matter publicly.” The board caved and voted to remove the book. There has been a lot of negative public reaction to this censorship, and a special meeting has been scheduled for tomorrow. From the agenda, it looks like they will be reconsidering the decision and voting again. The meeting is at five p.m. EST tomorrow (9/25), and I will pause in my day & have a moment of silence of my own (concurrent with the scheduled moment of silence in their agenda) to hope that the board this time realizes the perils of censorship and where it may lead. I urge you to do the same.

Source material for tomorrow’s special board meeting:


Below, the county’s Board of Education. All but the vice-chair Emily Coltrane and Todd Cutler have initially voted to “ban” the book. Board member Mason was quoted as saying “I didn’t find any literary merit” in the book. I am curious what his background is, and on what basis he made that determination. The materials and news that I’ve read on this story did not provide any additional info.



  1. Richard Boyle said,

    September 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks for providing all the background material on this case. I am familiar with the issue but not in the detail your materials demonstrated. I recall a few years ago there was a very simuilar case in Lawrence concerning “The Kite Runner” because of the inclusion of the gang rape of the young boy who was a friend of the protagonist. It too generated a substantial amount of publicity. Parental rights are a value to be considered in terms of primary or secondary education but I have yet to come down on the side of supporting them against the competing value of a classic piece of literature regardless of the nature of the objection.
    I appreciate your having made all this source material available. I agree that the irony is present in bold face with the arrival of “Banned Books Week”. Keep up the good work.



    • Jay said,

      September 25, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks, Richard.

      The source materials were at the school system’s site and, frankly, I was rather impressed that such a detailed procedure was in place for challenges from parents such as this one. Of course, the wisdom of those in leadership positions still must be a component of the process and I think this is where a failure may have occurred this time.

      One of the news stories I read had referenced that the books they were supposed to choose from that included Invisible man were for “honors” students. If this is true, I am even more confident of 16 year olds being smart enough to read FICTION without being adversely affected. I couldn’t find the “honors” reference in the primary sources though, so I didn’t include that in the post.

      The new meeting is coming up in about an hour. I am anxious to see what they decided this time.



  2. hkatz said,

    September 25, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I’m happy with the response of all of the local residents who are against the ban (both teens and adults).

    Also, I think it’s hilarious that people think banning books will prevent ‘impressionable young minds’ from being exposed to them, especially in this day and age. When you ban a book, doesn’t it become that much more appealing? 🙂

    Seriously, instead of censoring things you find unpleasant, why not discuss them openly to try to understand them better? I just don’t get what that mother thought she’d accomplish, or why most of the school board members caved. Suppressing something won’t make it go away; this woman’s child won’t miraculously stop thinking of or being exposed to sex and violence.


    • Jay said,

      September 25, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Hi hkatz,
      Thanks for the comment. I agree with all your points & I suspect the decision to hold another meeting may have been prompted to the public exposure this story has gotten, which seems more powerful than the complainant’s thinly veiled threat of her “and other companies” bringing more publicity to the issue.

      I realize also that everyone’s different, but when I was 15-17 years old, I and most of my friends were already reading deeply into all kinds of literature, even – and maybe especially – works that we knew made people uncomfortable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: