RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. — A banned book in Randolph County has become anything but invisible in recent weeks.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, published in 1952, was banned from school library shelves after a Randleman High School parent complained the book was inappropriate.
“This book should not be on the summer reading list,” wrote Kimiyutta Parson in documents to the school system. “You must respect all religions and points of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read.”
“Clearly,” she continued, “No one truly read through this book before they allowed it.”
According to superintendent Dr. Stephen Gainey, a school-based committee of six people first considered the complaint but voted to keep the book in school libraries. A second committee at the district level agreed, recommending the book should remain in schools for instructional purposes.
Earlier this month, the Randolph County Board of Education ultimately voted to ban the book from school libraries in the county after they were provided copies of the novel to read and review.
Since that decision, the county has gotten national attention for banning the award-winning book.
Asheboro native Evan Smith Rakoff said he was disgusted to hear of a book ban in his hometown. “I posted it on Twitter, I was very upset about it. I was deeply ashamed that any book would be banned but especially Invisible Man,” he told FOX8.
Rakoff is a freelance writer who now works at Poets & Writers in New York City.
“I’m very proud of being from North Carolina. It’s shaped who I am. So when I heard about this it’s contrary to everything I was taught in those very schools,” he explained.
Rakoff said he teamed up with Laura Miller of Salon.com, and helped get Vintage Books to donate nearly fifty copies of Invisible Man to the Books-A-Million store at Randolph Mall.
The store will give away the copies for free to Randolph County High School students starting Wednesday at 10 a.m.
People from as far away as Texas have called to pay for additional copies of the book to give away at Asheboro store.
Corporate policy prevented Books-A-Million employees from sharing their opinions with FOX8, but one woman wore a button on her store uniform boasting “I read banned books!”
“Probably this book will be flying off the shelves by the end of the day at this point,” joked Mauricio Perez, an avid reader who lives in Randolph County and disagrees with the school board’s decision to ban the book. “Our generation needs to understand that a lot of things may have changed, but this is the way things used to be. I just don’t see why there should be an uproar regarding classic literature.”
The book includes scenes of rape, incest and racism. “This novel is not so innocent,” Parson wrote in her complaint. “Instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers.”
Jarvis Siler works at a barber store in the mall and has followed this book debate. “Whenever you’re talking about something as classical as a Ralph Ellison piece, I mean you kinda want your child to read that.”
He continued, “I read it. I wasn’t really offended by the language, because I just knew it was a book. It’s just information. You can do what you want with information–store it or throw it away.”
Alvin Hall is a student at Randolph Community College, where some teachers are apparently taking advantage of the book ban to encourage discussion in class.
Hall said he’s been assigned to read Invisible Man and write an essay on banning books. “I think they should leave it up to the parent to make the decision. A parent to decide it’s okay for my kid to read or it’s not, instead of just banning the book,” he told FOX8.
“Any book being removed from access is wrong,” added Rakoff. “Hopefully now a lot of kids will have a great book that might alter the course of their lives. That would be ideal.”
They hope students will continue to learn from both the book and the controversy now surrounding it.
The Randolph County Board of Education called a special meeting for Wednesday night at 5 p.m. to reconsider their decision to ban the book. Dr. Gainey said he did not know which way the Board would vote, but was excited they were giving the ban additional thought and consideration.
“I just want our focus to remain on the students of Randolph County,” he explained.