'Invisible Man' ban is lifted from North Carolina school district

After banning Ralph Ellison's novel earlier this month, the Randolph County school board voted to bring 'Invisible Man' back to school libraries.

'Invisible Man' is by Ralph Ellison.

The novel “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison was restored to Randolph County school libraries after having been banned following a complaint from a parent. 

Earlier this month, the North Carolina school board had voted five to two to ban the book from school libraries. “Invisible Man” had previously been one of three works available to high school juniors in the county to choose from for summer reading. (Honors students were asked to chose two of the three books suggested). But a mother of an eleventh-grader found the content of “Invisible Man” – including sexual references and profane language – objectionable and wrote to the school board, “This book is … 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.”

When discussing the book, board member Gary Mason said of the book, “I didn’t find any literary value,” according to the Courier-Tribune of Asheville, N.C. Mason said he also found the language to be objectionable.

But the school board decided to lift the ban on the book on Sept. 25, voting six to one in a special meeting to bring the novel back to Randolph County libraries.

According to Reuters, after hearing of the ban, a former Randolph County resident contacted “Invisible Man” publisher, Vintage Books, and asked them to supply free copies of the novel for high school students in the area. The publisher complied, and free copies were made available at a Books-A-Million location.

The American Library Association, one of the sponsors of the currently celebrated Banned Books Week, and the Kids’ Right to Read Project, wrote a letter to the Randolph County school board after the ban had been put in place, asking that the book be restored to school libraries.

During the special meeting, two teachers spoke to the board about what they considered to be the value of the novel in an attempt to persuade them to lift the ban. “Some of the students in our classrooms right now feel that same cloak of invisibility [as the ‘Invisible Man’ protagonist],” Justine Carter, who teaches English, said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Matthew Lambeth, a school board member, told Reuters that after the ban was put in place, school staff had persuaded him that the novel was important for students to read.

“I felt like I came to a conclusion too quickly,” Lambeth said of his first vote.

After the school board reversed its decision, board member Gary Cook told the Los Angeles Times, “We may have been hammered on this and we may have made a mistake, but at least we’re big enough to admit it.”

Board chairman Tommy McDonald said he’d come to understand more about his duty as a member of the school board after the controversy. 

“My job is to make sure that book is there whether I want to read it or not,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

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