The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, December 05, 2003

Not Goodbye after all to the Columbus Mockingbird!

Though no thanks to the NAACP. (Previous Mockingbird material: December archives passim.)

The set-up, from Joanne Jacobs, where one sees more qualifications to the wrongly-so-called right to free speech than hanging on the walls of the entire Harvard faculty combined: students at Columbus East High School were planning to put on a stage production of To Kill A Mockingbird. Included in the Newsletter was the following graf:
Growing up has never been easy and in the deep South during the Depression, growing up means learning about yourself, your family and friends and your community. Follow the honesty and integrity of one of the greatest literary heroes as he teaches his children many of life's hardest lessons. Join East drama students as they present Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, October 31 and November 1 at 7 p.m. and November 2 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $5...

The Indianapolis Star (October 17) has the story, which, needless to say, is messier than one would ideally wish [1]:
...the director consulted with the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in September.

Initially, the group had no objections, but it later recommended modifying or eliminating the word. In fact, the director had taken it out before rehearsals started. But the publisher refused, and the school decided not to alter the script without permission.

"I had not heard a request to switch out that word in 15 years of leasing," said [rights-holder VP Chris] Sergel . He said his denial protects authenticity and fights censorship...

Gwen Wiggins, president of the Columbus-Bartholomew County chapter of the NAACP, said she gave her private opinion, not an official statement.

At the outset, she consented to the word, along with explanations Goshorn called onstage disclaimers, post-show discussions and follow-ups in class. Then Wiggins had second thoughts.

She declined to comment further.

"We want the NAACP's input. Get it and then not follow it?" said [Assistant Principal] Goshorn. "We try to work as a community in collaboration."

(Great choice of word there!)

Be not downhearted, however! For another piece in the Star shows the 'bird has phoenix-like qualities:
Concerned theater people in Columbus and Indianapolis are making sure the silenced high-school stage version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" gets heard.

It will receive a staged reading Jan. 30 and 31 in Columbus at the Crump Theater. Ideally, the Columbus East High School students from the scratched production will participate...

To purchase 1-812-376-3389 or 1-317-850-3968.

Columbians can have their very own little civil rights demonstration, all courtesy of the NAACP - now, that's what I call dramatic irony!

It's the sort of uplifting story of community solidarity in the face of adversity that cries out of making into a TV movie, at least, surely?

(Perhaps CBS would like to make amends to all those conservatives they offended with their Reagan miniseries.)

And the view of Assistant Principal Goshorn?
I don't think we are opposed to what they are trying to do. Nor do we say that we are endorsing it.

Is the Columbus case unusual? Not according to Sergel, who
estimated that 260 amateur theaters have done "Mockingbird" in the past three years. Roughly 80 percent were in school settings.

260 productions - and with all their niggers intact! Where, one might ask, was the NAACP at all of the venues?

Could it be that producers felt that the more prudent course would be to avoid putting the NAACP on the spot?

Even in the case of the Columbus East production, the president of the county chapter blessed the production before nixing it: what were the internal conversations, one wonders, at the NAACP? Were national officials involved? Was Julian Bond - of UVa fame - in any way concerned? Did someone - did Bond - within the NAACP decide to make an example of the East Columbus production?

Will we ever know? Answers on a postcard...

  1. There'd been some kind of racial confrontation on the football field - the piece draws the family tree.

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