Banned Books and Rabbits

To mark the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, we note a few highlights from our holdings at the Amistad Research Center.

It might be an odd coincidence, or there’s something particularly “rascally” about rabbits in mid-twentieth century children’s literature.  Either way, the Amistad Research Center has two books featuring rabbits that were banned from schools or libraries: The Rabbit Brothers by Robert Kraus and The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams.

Cover of The Rabbits' Wedding by Garth Williams.

Cover of The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams.

The Rabbit’s Wedding is the tale of two rabbits, one black and one white, who fall in love and marry. The theme produced a firestorm response from segregationists who decried the symbolism of miscegenation. Garth Williams, perhaps best known as the illustrator for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books and E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, was dismissive of any notion that his books have an underlying political message: “The Rabbits’ Wedding has no political significance. I was completely unaware that animals with white fur were considered blood relations of white human beings. It was written for children from two to five who will understand it perfectly. It was not written for adults, who will not understand it because it is only about a soft furry love and has no hidden messages of hate.” Even Time magazine, writing in 1959 about the widespread banning of The Rabbits’ Wedding, suggested that one would have to be a bumbling Elmer Fudd to feel threatened by children’s literature: “It seems incredible that any sober adult could scent in this fuzzy cottontale for children the overtones of Karl Marx or even of Martin Luther King.”

Amistad’s copy of The Rabbits’ Wedding, found in the Center’s library holdings, is stamped with ownership marks of the Caddo Parish Instructional Materials Center in Louisiana, and was possibly removed from that library due to the perceived controversial nature of the book.

The other banned book, The Rabbit Brothers, is found in the papers of Charles Rousseve, who was a principal at Booker T. Washington High School and other New Orleans area schools.  Accompanying this book is a single-page bulletin written in 1956 by School Superintendent James F. Redmond, which demands that all distribution of the book, which was published by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, stop immediately in accordance with policy of the Orleans Parish School Board.

Bulletin issued by Superintendent James F. Redmond, written September 11, 1956.

Bulletin issued by Superintendent James F. Redmond, written September 11, 1956.

The Rabbit Brothers is a tale of twin rabbits, one of whom is friends and acquaintances with rabbits of all colors while the other “tells unfriendly jokes about those whose color or religion is different from his own.”  This was enough for Emmitt Irwin, chairman of the Citizens’ Council of New Orleans, to decry the book for “brainwashing the children along the lines of racial integration” and the ADL as a “possible Communist front organization.” Officials with the ADL defended their distribution of the book, stating that the Girl Scouts of America and the Salvation Army were among the many groups who have used the publication to fight against bigotry.

(Text of The Rabbit Brothers.  The book ends by asking, "Which rabbit are you?")

(Text of The Rabbit Brothers. The book ends by asking, “Which rabbit are you?”)

Posted by Andrew Salinas

(Images may not be reproduced without permission.)

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