This is reprinted from the Jan. 10, 1966, editorial page of The Richmond News Leader.
“Who Killed the Mockingbird?”
All of today’s Forum is given over to the beautiful controversy that has blown up since the Hanover County School Board voted unanimously last Tuesday night to ban Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. While the local board’s action has a couple of defenders, the overwhelming bulk of the mail reaching us is critical of the decision.
Yet is has become evident that the criticism is missing its mark – or more accurately, is hitting only one or two appropriate targets. The Hanover School Board exhibited the kind of small-bore stupidity that deserves to be roundly condemned; but the Hanover board was merely following the larger stupidity of the State Board of Education.
News stories have made it clear how the incredible system works. Book publishers submit copies of their books to a committee of the State Board of Education. The committee then recommends that some books be approved and some disapproved. Last year, 3,361 titles won approval; 1,160 were rejected. Because the State extends grant-in-aid funds to local school boards only for purchase of books not on the approved list.
Miss Lee’s novel, widely acclaimed as a contemporary classic, was submitted for approval in 1960, but rejected. George Orwell’s great work, 1984 was approved by the State in 1952, and then removed from the list a year later.
It occurs to us that the fire in this absurd business ought to be shifted from the local board members of Hanover County to the selection committee of the State Board of Education. Who are these dimwitted censors who would deny their sanction to 1984 and To Kill a Mockingbird? What credentials, if any, could support such astoundingly bad judgment? Do such broad-gauged men as Lewis Powell and Colgate Darden, members of the State Board of Education, condone this nonsense?
Off and on in recent years, we have detected encouraging signs that Virginia was emerging from the peckerwood provincialism and ingrown “morality” that H. L. Mencken, in a famous phrase, attributed to this Sahara of the Bozart. But if this dim-witted committee of the State Board of Education is fairly representative of the wisdom that prevails in high levels of State educational policy, Mencken’s old indictment stands reconfirmed today. If Messrs. Powell and Darden would like to start the New Year with a signal public service, perhaps they would take the lead in firing this committee and abolishing the State’s Index of Approved Books altogether.