“It’s A Sin To Kill A Mockingbird”: Biloxi School District Removes Harper Lee Classic After Parent Complaints Over Offensive Language

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdIn To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout says early on in the story that she only heard her father Atticus say that one thing was a “sin.”  Atticus said  “remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The Biloxi School District appears to repentant sinner this month after it axed the Harper Lee classic because some parents complained about the book’s language.  Despite being one of the most powerful works in history against racism, parents could not overcome the authentic Southern and racist lexicon of the period.  News reports indicate that the problem was the use of the “n-word” in a Southern period where that word widely used.

The classic work had long been taught in Biloxi but was  pulled it from the curriculum due to parental complaints.  Kenny Holloway, vice president of the Biloxi School Board explained that “There were complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books.  Really? What same lesson?  The Harper Lee work is the lesson. It is a classic.  Students read it to experience a towering classic of American literature.  Like most great works, it is supposed to make people feel uncomfortable. It talks about institutionalized and culture racisms as well as poverty, rape, and hatred in our society. If you feel comfortable with such reading, you are not really reading it.

Arthur_McMillanNevertheless, Superintendent Arthur McMillan issued the same bureaucratic response that To Kill A Mockingbird is just another book and they have lots of books that make no one uncomfortable: “There are many resources and materials that are available to teach state academic standards to our students.” That is like saying that you can replace the Mona Lisa with Dogs Playing Poker because they are both paintings.

Lee’s Southern gothic novel won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1962.

I have seen the same type of removal of classics in the classes of my own children in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The kids once read the classic “Tale of Two Cities” but to achieve greater cultural diversity, the masterpiece was dropped in favor of an African novel that is no literary substitute.

The loss of an inspiring and classic work like To Kill a Mockingbird is a true tragedy for the students of Biloxi. Because of the utter lack of literary and historical appreciation of these parents (and the cringing compliance of District officials), students will not be exposed to a work that has shaped the minds for decades.  As Atticus stated in the novel, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

62 thoughts on ““It’s A Sin To Kill A Mockingbird”: Biloxi School District Removes Harper Lee Classic After Parent Complaints Over Offensive Language”

  1. Isn’t it interesting how under the cloak of “the offensive” we censor things? But we don’t censor other things. I’m no electrical or computer engineer but I suspect were one so inclined, she could produce a logic flowchart that explains this in unambiguous terms. There are reasons this book was censored while certain other equally offensive things were not.

  2. We are witnessing the sacrifice of our history, education, morality, and culture on the altar of political correctness. The members of the school board are being bullied and are unwilling to do their jobs.

  3. If they think Harper Lee is a problem–can’t wait until they dig into the Judy Blume books where she writes about a stressed little girl taking a bath and using her washcloth to make things better… 🙄 Pick your battles, people–pick your battles!!!

    1. Sadly, Suzie Q, I don’t think they will have a problem with the Judy Blume books. There will be no complaints about that topic.

  4. To Kill a Mockingbird was a catalyst for change expressly because it was excruciating to read at parts. Why would society alter its path if everything is pleasant and no one uses any dehumanizing language? Should they take out the part about the colored toilets in The Help because it might make some parents uncomfortable to know that segregation existed even inside individual homes?

    To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, although it was not a pleasant read. It covered major themes of racism and injustice, peppered with sharp bites of false rape allegations, powerlessness, humanity, mental illness, injustice, compassion, weeds, the Klan, inertia of society, free range parenting, poverty, hope and hopelessness, the stigma of the public defender, those who saw themselves as avenging angels acting as savage bullies and maniacs, neighbors, coming of age, sibling relationships, morality, honor, the bonds that bind us and the walls between us, cooties, the cruelty of children, how to judge a real friend by his deeds and not his appearance, the clock never runs backwards to undo anything, the bond between parent and child, and even the bureaucracy of the public school system. Atticus Finch taught Scout to read, which infuriated her school.

    It was this running commentary about every aspect of our lives. Every aspect. No crevice hidden. Just a look deep into our hearts and souls and what it means to be a child when the world around you is so complicated and unfair. What being heartsick feels like. How can you excise the wounds and have the same experience?

    Looking back, what strikes me in the present context is the false rape allegation that lit the match, and how events began spiraling out of control. There was such divisiveness in that community.

    It is an appropriate book to be read today, with an open mind as to all its implications.

  5. Any teacher who can’t teach the real meaning of Mockingbird or Huck Finn shouldn’t be teaching.

    1. RSA – I will fight for Huck Finn, but I personally do not think To Kill a Mockingbird is that good a novel. It is a liberal favorite, but it is not great literature. I have never been forced to teach it, thank the gods, However, were I, it would be easy to make a substitution of greater value, like War and Peace.

      1. However, were I, it would be easy to make a substitution of greater value, like War and Peace.

        Pretty strange juxtaposition.

        From Mark Steyn:

        “From time to time I’ve quoted in this space Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange and a prescient pathologist of British social decline. One day, my sister, a BBC producer, was in make-up with Burgess. It was 1989, in the first days after the ayatollah’s fatwa, and she remarked to him that Rushdie had just gone into hiding. As the make-up lady tamped down his glare, Burgess responded with noticeable vehemence: “There’s only one man I loathe more than Salman Rushdie, and that’s Jimmy Savile!”

        She laughed when she told me — because the juxtaposition seems absurd. Try it yourself: “There’s only one man I loathe more than Milan Kundera, and that’s Justin Bieber,” “

        1. TSFS – once the students find out the substitute book is War and Peace, they will be happy to read To Kill A Mockingbird. That is how you kill dissent in your classroom. 😉

      2. It is a liberal favorite, but it is not great literature.

        I beg your pardon but it is one classical liberal’s favorite as well. The fact you do not consider it great literature is a reflection on you, not the book.

      3. Huck Finn and War & Peace are both important works, as well, although Huck Finn was a more enjoyable read.

        Literature is like art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You can critique brush stroke, style, composition, and talent, but in the end, everyone likes what they like.

        Public schools should not lock away the recognized classics. They are the foundation upon which all else was built. Without some exposure to the classics, you get ignorance.

        1. Karen – taste is personal, but you cannot put To Kill a Mockingbird in the same category as War and Peace. It is like comparing a half-decent 100-yard dasher with a an Olympic medal winner, like Bolt. Although the better comparison would be to a cross-country runner or marathon runner.

  6. There is a new novel just out on Kindle. It will come out in printed form in February. It is titled: No Big Thing. It is written by William Stage. He is a journalist and fine writer and has authored other books. In this new novel the story centers on some folks in Missouri on the outskirts of St. Louis who wish to join the other charities and business entities who put a sign up on a stretch of state highway and do litter cleanup duties. The group who applied and got turned down by the state for this project was “the KKK”. The local guy who was an older member of that group had been raised down in Cairo, Illinois when the Klan ran things down there under the name The White Hats Council. The state denies the application and the old Klan guy hires an ACLU lawyer to sue the state for the right to have some free speech and whatnot. The guy he hires had been a civil rights lawyer in Cairo back in the 70s. A lot of things get talked about and mulled over in the novel and it touches on issues raised in To Kill A Mocking Bird. No birds are killed. This is a great book for Turleyblog readers. You can go on Kindle and get it. There is one incident mentioned in there about a case in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals back in 1976 or so when some black folks sued the Cairo Municipal Utilities Commission for refusing to hire any black people. At oral argument one of the judges on the three judge panel asked the lawyer for the city right off the bat to explain why they could not do so. The lawyer at the podium says: “Cause Nigras R Fraid of Lectricity!”. That was enough for the judges and they short cut the oral argument and made their ruling soon thereafter against the city. I days of old in the South the black folks were called “negroes” and not “blacks:”. That later word was dsparaging. A bigot might say “nigras” with a southern twang. The lietter “i” being close to the full N word. Of course the school in Biloxi will not allow this new book to be in the school library. I am going to mail them a copy when it comes out in print form in February. Maybe a lawsuit is in order.

    1. I erred above. The political organization in Cairo was: The White Citizens Council and was known as The White Hats.

  7. Arthur McMillan must be about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten, his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time

  8. Well they haven’t banned the book from being read outside the classroom…yet. The attention that is being brought to this classic may actually inspire more to read it than less. I used to go to the library in the late 60’s, early 70’s (age 10) in Minneapolis because I loved to read. This book had an impact on me that I didn’t understand at the time. I didn’t have a classroom to discuss it in but I just knew Atticus’ cause was the right cause. I don’t know if it was before or after reading this book that I read Black Like Me. I think it’s time to read that again. The last book I recall reading around that age is The True Believer. To this day I have no idea why I chose to read those last 2 books. They weren’t required and they certainly weren’t what kids at that age read. But, they are books that left an impression on me that has lasted 47 years.

    1. Olly, I recall reading Black Like Me a year or so before I read To Kill A Mockingbird. As someone who was totally clueless about racism, I found the book shocking and depressing. Mockingbird, on the other hand, taught without preaching and probably inspired my decision to go to law school more than anything else I’ve ever read.

      1. Mockingbird, on the other hand, taught without preaching and probably inspired my decision to go to law school more than anything else I’ve ever read.

        I completely understand that inspiration. I see the same ignorant injustice of that trial in today’s America, on any number of issues. To me the law has and always will be used as a weapon by the powerful to manipulate the ignorant masses. If often exceeds its purpose by infringing rights rather than securing them equally for all.

      2. Mike/Olly, The Good Sisters of St. Joseph and Jesuits had the author of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin, speak to our high school. It was on our summer reading list[10 books every summer]. He visited our school the Fall of 1968. He spoke off the cuff and mostly it was Q and A. Interesting man.

          1. If there were protests, it would be cuckoo racial particularists babbling about ‘cultural appropriatieon’ or some such.

      3. Mike, I’ve had several attorneys say the same, To Kill a Mockingbird inspiring them to be an attorney. I bet there are countless attorneys who say that. Then, why the hell is it so hard to find an Atticus Finch?? I reckon you are close to Atticus. I’ve known a few, but I’ve known thousands of attorneys over my 40 years working w/ them and I can count the Atticus on one hand.

        When I taught 8th grade in a Catholic school I had my class read the book and then watch the movie. It truly moved most of the students. Chicago used to have a book of the month and To Kill was one. That was maybe 15 years ago.

        1. Then, why the hell is it so hard to find an Atticus Finch??

          Small town solo practitioners make their money from real estate closings, municipal court cases, modest personal injury cases, estate practice, &c. They’re guys making a living. (As was Amasa Coleman Lee).

  9. It’s rampant. Shakespeare and Hemingway are not taught because they were misogynist. As mespo said, this is a Mao like cultural revolution.

  10. While we’re at it, Lee’s novel was not Southern Gothic. Lee’s chum Truman Capote wrote some Southern Gothic fiction. Wm. Faulkner wrote Southern Gothic. Flannery O’Connor wrote Southern Gothic. Harper Lee’s novel is not Gothic.

  11. What’s amazing is that no matter where you are in this country, the same sort of smarmy bureaucratic microbe seems to run the local schools. This is the superintendent’s capsule biography:


    You’ll notice he was trained to manage students, not to teach them much of anything. You’ll also notice that you can land a management position in public education without taking a civil service examination and without completing a course of study in public or business administration. Just like everywhere else.

    Dollars to doughnuts the complainer was (1) a soccer mom from some northern locus who moved to the area when her husband landed a job at Mississippi State University or (2) a dopey black woman with an attitude, laying down her marks.

  12. “teach state academic standards”

    Here is part of the problem. Are kids to learn state standards or are they to learn how to wrestle with difficult ideas, especially ones apropos to today, as well as to learn and consider lessons about ‘the big ideas’ that can be contained in a book.

    Isn’t becoming educated bigger than fulfilling ‘state standards’?

    Also, with what would you substitute that would explore comparable themes? Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor? A very good book, but perhaps not rigorous enough for 8th graders.

    1. Prairie Rose, Yes. Becoming educated is bigger than fulfilling ‘state standards.’ Which is exactly why becoming educated ought to be the state academic standard in the first place.

  13. Would be interesting to know if it is white parents who demanded the removal of this novel, or black parents who complained? Just wondering.

    1. dirtydog1776 – as a teacher, it makes no difference, you just make an adjustment. I have had parents of every race complain and we just came to a reasonable accommodation for their child.

    2. See above. The smart money says it was one of two social types, one white, one black.

  14. It’s full on cultural Marxism to remove classic Western literature in favor of the pablum of diversity. Remove Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” for some African novel? It’s diversity run amok. If you don’t value and defend your culture nobody else will and then you get some tripe from some Emperor’s New Clothes genius like Maya Angelou. Yuck.

    1. Agreed! It’s not just “cringing compliance” by the Districts, it’s full-on political manipulation. My kids’ middle school assigned a book in which the main character is brutally raped by a classmate at a party the summer before her freshman year of high school. She tells no one. The book then recounts the brutality she suffers at the hands of all the adults and peers around her who have no clue what has transpired. Meanwhile, the rapist continues to stalk and torment her. The final scene of the book is her sitting in the school broom closet, hiding from the insensitive ones she has never confided in, when her rapist barges in and proceeds to rape her again. At that point, she — finally, at long last –vocalizes. Her classmates hear her yell and arrive to protect her. This is what passes for “coming of age” according to “progressive educators” in schools today! And yet we wonder, “Why are our children so anxious and depressed?!” Pleeeze! Wake Up America!

  15. They can call their kid a little n *** at home, but God forbid Harper Lee use is it in To Kill A Mockingbird. Now I personally do not hold JT’s stand that just because something won the Pulitzer Prize makes it the Great American Novel, but I do subscribe to the idea that parents have a say in what their children read. The Superintendent is correct, there are other Pulitzer winners you can replace this with for that small group that has a problem, while the majority of the class reads the book you intended. Usually, you pick the one that you have the classroom set for, which is probably what this teacher did. What I did in cases like this was sent home a list of books I approved and the student and parents could select the one they liked. They were responsible for obtaining a copy of it though and I gave a very thorough final exam on the book to make sure the student read it.

  16. Heaven forbid we consider offering students Jacob Riis’ work “How the Other Half Lives” to enrich their understanding of social inequality. We must apply 21st century political correctness to a 19th century man and deny our students a profound insight into the condition of how others were made to live in the past. For it is the totality of the reading experience, the text, the imagery, and the context that provides a holistic learning model. Perhaps it is just better in the minds of some to forget the past and provide only a sanitized version for public consumption.

    Here is a most offending excerpt of Mr. Riis’ writings on the condition of tenements of NYC and the discrimination faced by one demographic of tenant–again in the words of a 19th century author:

    Cleanliness is the characteristic of the negro in his new surroundings,
    as it was his virtue in the old. In this respect he is immensely the
    superior of the lowest of the whites, the Italians and the Polish
    Jews, below whom he has been classed in the past in the tenant scale.
    Nevertheless, he has always had to pay higher rents than even these
    for the poorest and most stinted rooms. The exceptions I have come
    across, in which the rents, though high, have seemed more nearly on a
    level with what was asked for the same number and size of rooms in the
    average tenement, were in the case of tumble-down rookeries in which no
    one else would live, and were always coupled with the condition that
    the landlord should “make no repairs.” It can readily be seen, that his
    profits were scarcely curtailed by his “humanity.” The reason advanced
    for this systematic robbery is that white people will not live in the
    same house with colored tenants, or even in a house recently occupied
    by negroes, and that consequently its selling value is injured. The
    prejudice undoubtedly exists, but it is not lessened by the house
    agents, who have set up the maxim “once a colored house, always a
    colored house.”

    There is method in the maxim, as shown by an inquiry made last year by
    the _Real Estate Record_. It proved agents to be practically unanimous
    in the endorsement of the negro as a clean, orderly, and “profitable”
    tenant. Here is the testimony of one of the largest real estate firms
    in the city: “We would rather have negro tenants in our poorest class
    of tenements than the lower grades of foreign white people. We find the
    former cleaner than the latter, and they do not destroy the property
    so much. We also get higher prices. We have a tenement on Nineteenth
    Street, where we get $10 for two rooms which we could not get more
    than $7.50 for from white tenants previously. We have a four-story
    tenement on our books on Thirty-third Street, between Sixth and Seventh
    Avenues, with four rooms per floor–a parlor, two bedrooms, and a
    kitchen. We get $20 for the first floor, $24 for the second, $23 for
    the third and $20 for the fourth, in all $87 or $1,044 per annum. The
    size of the building is only 21+55.” Another firm declared that in a
    specified instance they had saved fifteen to twenty per cent. on the
    gross rentals since they changed their white tenants for colored ones.
    Still another gave the following case of a front and rear tenement
    that had formerly been occupied by tenants of a “low European type,”
    who had been turned out on account of filthy habits and poor pay. The
    negroes proved cleaner, better, and steadier tenants. Instead, however,
    of having their rents reduced in consequence, the comparison stood as

    _Rents under White Tenants._

    Per month.

    Front– 1st floor (store, etc.) $21
    2d ” 13
    3d ” 13
    4th ” (and rear) 21
    Rear– 2d ” 12
    3d ” 12
    4th ” (see front) —
    Rear house–1st ” 8
    2d ” 10
    3d ” 9
    4th ” 8
    Total $127

    _Rents under Colored Tenants._

    Per month.

    Front– 1st floor (store, etc.) $21
    2d ” 14
    3d ” 14
    4th ” 14
    Rear– 2d ” 12
    3d ” 13
    4th ” 13
    Rear house–1st ” 10
    2d ” 12
    3d ” 11
    4th ” 10
    Total $144

    An increased rental of $17 per month, or $204 a year, and an advance of
    nearly thirteen and one-half per cent. on the gross rental “in favor”
    of the colored tenant. Profitable, surely!

    I have quoted these cases at length in order to let in light on the
    quality of this landlord despotism that has purposely confused the
    public mind, and for its own selfish ends is propping up a waning
    prejudice. It will be cause for congratulation if indeed its time has
    come at last. Within a year, I am told by one of the most intelligent
    and best informed of our colored citizens, there has been evidence,
    simultaneous with the colored hegira from the low down-town tenements,
    of a movement toward less exorbitant rents.

    1. Darren Smith, we could have used this information from Jacob Riis’ work “How the Other Half Lives” on the Cakeshop/Coffee-shop thread. You know–the one about public accommodation laws. Well, better late than never.

  17. Jonathan, I know you are aware that Harper Lee was a woman. You may want to correct your last sentence.

    1. He was quoting Atticus Finch, who was was using “he” in the general sense of humanity.

  18. Right about “Huckleberry Finn,” probably an even better book than “Mockingbird.” It has been pointed out that “Mockingbird,” in addition to using the N-word, contains some negative race and class stereotypes. Not that that warrants a ban. But teachers should be aware of this and teach to it.

  19. If a petition to the bureaucrat is circulated I will certainly sign it. Same problem arises sometimes with “Huckleberry Finn”.

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