Censorship in Oklahoma

As Dr. Lee Hester said in a 2018 interview, Oklahoma “lags socially” in comparison to other parts of the U.S. In accordance with that sentiment, Oklahoma has a rich history of censorship, as do many highly religious and politically conservative states. Most censorship disputes in Oklahoma have taken place either in the turbulent 1950s and 1960s or the 2000s. Almost all of them deal with the same issues that led to the challenge against Glass: sex and profanity.

1950s and 1960s Censorship Cases

The “smutmobile” operated by the Mothers United for Decency in Oklahoma City in 1961.

In 1959, a nationwide organization called Citizens for Decent Literature created a branch in Oklahoma City. This group, along with a local group called the Mothers United for Decency, focused their efforts on eliminating “smut” from all of the city’s public institutions, including libraries and newsstands. To do this they employed a “smutmobile,” parading through town collecting “pornographic material.” Among the contested texts reviled by the smutmobile was D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers.

Meanwhile in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city, censorship was also prevalent. In 1960, a Tulsa high school teacher was fired for requiring her students to read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Although she regained her job, the book remained inaccessible to students. This dispute is the subject of USAO’s 2018 Burning Idea project, which can be found here.

Recent Censorship

It came as a surprise to us, the researchers, how infrequent the cases of book censorship and banning have been in the last 20 years. Most have been challenges rather than outright bannings, like the Hopkins case. It seems likely that more of these could have occurred than what we found, but many likely escaped major media attention.

In our interview with ex-Whittier librarian Karin Perry, she seemed to support the idea that censorship in Oklahoma is relatively rare. “This was my only challenge in the 5 years I worked [at Whittier],” she said. “I think it was an isolated incident. It doesn’t happen very often.”

Logsdon, Guy, “Censorship.” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society.

Hester, Lee. “Interview with Dr. Hester 3.12.18” by Max Corbin, Catching Their Ire, 12 March 2018.

Image credit:

Oklahoma City Smutmobile. The Daily Oklahoman, 20 Mar. 1961. Accessed through Newspapers.com and used with permission from The Daily Oklahoman.

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