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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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Happy-ish ending for Columbus Mockingbird story - but over in Indianapolis...

Readers may recall the hoo-ha worked up last year over Columbus East High School's production of To Kill A Mockingbird. As a result of the usual combination of a cringing, shakedown-shy school administration and grievance-meisters taking full advantage, the production was cancelled (piece of December 5 2003).

Instead, a staged reading of the play was arranged. And all indications are that the reading went off as planned. A piece (January 30) in the Indianapolis Star mentions that
On Martin Luther King Day, some 170 people held a "Community Conversation" about all this at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus. The one-hour forum gave individuals up to a minute to speak their piece.

I think the Star may be sounder than some on the issue. It is bold enough to make a contrast:
Of the 170 in attendance, 80 percent were white, 20 percent black, he said. According to the 2000 census, the city's population is 39,059, with whites at 91.3 percent and blacks at 2.7 percent.

And quotes Andrew Ranck, one of those putting on the reading, as saying:
We want to ensure that the individual patron of the arts has the choice to decide whether or not a play is offensive

It also quotes 48 year old Paul Jones, who played Tom Robinson:
For adults to decide what the kids can take away from the play is just arrogant.

It would be mean-spirited in the circumstances to wonder just how the local NAACP sachems characterised Mr Jones' part in the affair. Oops, too late...

However, down the road in Indianapolis itself, there's been an outbreak of more of the same (Star February 21).

Except what's being objected to is nothing less than the tale of the schools desegregation cases that ended up as Brown v Board of Education [1]! As delivered by the 1991 TV movie Separate But Equal, starring Sidney Poitier as Thurgood Marshall, no less.

Now, you'd have thought that a movie like that would be unlikely to favour the side of Jim Crow! More like a civil rights pageant, one suspects.

One might have thought that black parents would view such a flick as just the sort of wholesome, empowering fare they would want their kids to see in Black History Month [2].

Not Pastor Jeffrey Johnson:
I am very upset. This is just crazy; it's crazy. Out of all the shows, all the movies that are shown about the civil rights movement, this is what (they) choose? This is what they choose to show an eighth-grader? It's crazy."

Why? They see their side win big [3]. What could be wrong with that?

Johnson said he was incensed by the language.

"I'm 41, and I couldn't sit through it," he said. "Not in that context. I can't think of any context where that's appropriate for a 13-year-old to have to deal with."

How can you teach the civil rights movement if you don't show what they were fighting?

Aside from the content of the movie, Johnson said, he's irate that parents were not aware that the film would be viewed by students.

[Principal Shari] Switzer said that's likely because for the 10 years the school has been using the video, officials have not heard any objections from parents.

Switzer holds her ground:
"It was an ugly time in our history -- we did ugly things, we used ugly words. My belief is we need to educate kids on the good and the bad because kids can make a difference," Switzer said.

"Kids recognize the wrong in what they saw."

She said that because of Johnson's strong objections, the staff may reconsider when it's appropriate to alert parents to questionable material.

The Reverend Johnson will be taking another swing at persuading the school to can the movie; but my sense is that Shari Switzer has cojones enough to see him off.

Turned out not to be a bad news story after all. How about that...

  1. Of Topeka, KS, never let it be forgotten.

  2. They only got half an hour out of three hours running time, apparently.

  3. I'm assuming they'd show the rousing finale.

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