I couldn't believe my eyes and ears when I read that a school administration in Biloxi had banned, of all things, the epic American masterpiece by Alabama-born writer Harper Lee, the cherished novel that millions of Americans have loved and savored for nearly six decades, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
The tale spun by Harper Lee is an indictment of the cruelty of hate and suspicion, a hatred based solely on the color of one’s skin.
It’s a story of innocence and the nobler instincts of humanity twisted by prejudice and bigotry into murder and malevolence.
The book was published just five years after the senseless slaying of Emmett Till, the Chicago teenager who was kidnapped, tortured and shot, with his body being thrown like garbage into the Tallahatchie River. Two white men would later confess to his killing but were acquitted in court for the crime.
The school board in Biloxi voted to yank the classic novel from the classroom after complaints that some of the language in the book made some feel uncomfortable.
Set in the 1930s, Harper Lee's novel accurately portrayed the time and setting, as well as the frank language of the period in American history.
At what point have we come to in American discourse where uncomfortable topics and subjects are scrubbed or cleansed from the public marketplace simply because they cause discomfort?
We have speakers being banned from college campuses because they might offend someone. Despite their often repugnant and hateful speech, as was the case with several speakers on all sides of the political spectrum, the First Amendment must be respected and protected as an integral and important part of American life.
Are we to trample on the First Amendment because we do not like what another person is saying? Are we so accustomed to listening to and dwelling inside our own echo chambers that we simply can no longer tolerate the views of individuals who might hold an opposing view?
There is concern among those who study our Constitution that the cherished notion of free speech is endangered in the 21st century.
People are belittled and bullied for simply speaking their minds. They are denigrated for sharing their views and beliefs.
What of the pilgrims who landed on these shores in search of religious freedom and liberty?
What of the suffragettes who marched in the streets of Washington who demanded the rights of women to vote?
What of millions of African-Americans and farm workers who protested for civil rights and fair wages, or individuals who express their opposition to war or persecution?
Across the ocean and behind the papered-over Iron Curtain, censorship continues to rear its ugly head.
Russian leader Vladmir Putin has systematically eliminated journalists — meaning killed or assassinated people — who poke and prod into the corruption of that regime.
In Kim Jung-un’s North Korea, anyone who opposes that brutal dictatorship is murdered or placed under arrest. There is absolutely nothing critical ever published of their “Dear Leader.” His generals and subordinates fawningly applaud each time he enters a room or fires off a rocket.
Books like Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” strike a chord because they hold up a mirror to allow us to see our true reflection — not how we wish to be seen through rose-colored glasses.
That means ugly scars, warts and all.
That means allowing others to hear the ugly hate-filled slurs that we often use in whispered conversations around the water cooler.
That means allowing open discussion about changes to an often entrenched court and justice system, which for generations has sheltered segregation and given safe haven to criminals, such as the murderers of Emmett Till.
That means being able to read great works of literature, even though they accurately depict the horrors of another time and place — and increasingly — chillingly reflect the times in which we live.