Historical Context

To Kill A Mockingbird showcases the discrimination that people of color faced in the early twentieth century and still do today. The story was set in the 1930s, which was the peak of the Great Depression. Lynchings were fairly commonplace until 1935 when a law banned the practice.

Harper Lee began writing the book in 1957, just two years after Rosa Parks stood her ground on the bus and young Emmett Till was brutally murdered. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was enacted which prosecuted people who tried to prevent black people from voting. Also in 1957, the Little Rock Nine were integrated into public school facing violent backlash for their enrollment.

After the book was published in 1960, the Civil Rights movement began to take off with bills banning public discrimination and enacting voting rights for people of color.

The first case of To Kill A Mockingbird being challenged was in 1966. The reason for it was concerning the rape scene which was called “immoral.” Up until the 1980s, the book was being banned for its use of the words “damn” and “whore.” It was even called a “filthy trashy novel.”

In the 1980s, the reasons for banning the book began to shift. In 1981, in Warren, Indiana, it was banned because it “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” Every case after this was related to the book having “racist” undertones.  During this time, police brutality began to garner attention across the country. In 1980, riots were set off by the murder of Arthur McDuffie. As more instances like this became more widely acknowledged, attitudes towards books with the themes presented in To Kill A Mockingbird started to change. Black people started to use the “n” word as a friendly name in order to regain control of its use. White use of this word was not allowed due to its being used as a racial slur and as a replacement for other negative words. Because the word had become a point of contention between people books with the word started to be challenged.

Accomack County. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2018. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_showing_Accomack_County,_Virginia.png>.

This specific challenge occurred in Accomack County on the Eastern shore of Virginia.The county is a rural area and according to the 2016 census there are only 46.9% people of color or from different ethnic backgrounds. Over 68% are white. The case in 2016 came at a time where racial tensions were rising once again due to a controversial election. With many outspoken voices, hate crimes committed by white people against people of color rose 20% from 2015. This complaint stated that the mother didn’t want to encourage the racism shown in the book because her biracial son already experiences it. Because people on all sides felt more empowered to express their opinions, challenges against content in books began to be more frequent. The challenge to To Kill A Mockingbird created a discussion about what was being taught in the school system and brought the community together, after many questions were raised about how the book functions when discussing race and racism.

Header Image:

1963 March on Washington. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2018.