'Color Purple' ban unsuccessful in Brunswick County school libraries

ablythe@newsobserver.comJanuary 3, 2014 

— “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a poor, black woman in the South trying to escape oppressive and abusive relationships, has sparked a secondary story line in Eastern North Carolina.

Brunswick County commissioner Pat Sykes objected to what she described as the book’s “immorality, the filth, the F word and N word” and asked for it to be removed from West Brunswick High School’s library collection and the 11th-grade Advanced Placement curriculum.

She launched a campaign that worked its way up from the school to the Brunswick County school board, which voted 3-2 Friday to uphold a decision by the school system’s superintendent to keep the book as part of the high school curriculum.

The board’s decision, being watched by many national organizations for and against the restrictions, could be revisited at the next meeting.

On Dec. 17, Superintendent Edward Pruden rejected her appeal of principal Brock Ahrens’ refusal to remove the book.

In an open letter to Sykes, he said: “With the guidance of a caring and sensitive instructor, ‘The Color Purple’ can teach our older adolescents many worthwhile lessons about American history and culture, about human nature, and about the will to survive and rise above unfortunate circumstances against all odds.”

When Sykes appealed Pruden’s ruling to the Brunswick County school board, parents, students, educators and others from the coastal community debated for and against removing the book.

Friday’s decision brought praise from Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

“Today’s vote marks a victory for academic freedom and the rights of students,” Brook said in a statement. “The freedom to read is just as essential to a healthy democracy as the freedom of speech and all other rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. Literary classics such as ‘The Color Purple’ are part of high school curricula across the country precisely because they tackle difficult and challenging topics that compel students to think critically about the world around them. When we deny students access to certain books or ideas, we deny them access to knowledge and the tools necessary for critical thinking. We are glad the board did the right thing today, and we will continue to monitor the situation going forward.”

The ACLU has fought against other book bans in North Carolina recently.

In September, the Randolph County Board of Education voted 6-1 to reverse an earlier vote banning Ralph Ellison’s literary classic, “Invisible Man,” from Randolph County schools.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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