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Book Burning in America/Book Burning in the 21st Century

Alex Constantine - August 11, 2010

A brief history of book burning in America


451 - Book Burning in America/Book Burning in the 21st CenturyIn the late 19th century, a former U.S. postal inspector Anthony Comstock appointed himself America's censor, creating the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. One of his primary targets was "obscenity" in literature along with birth control materials written by the likes of Margaret Sanger. In 1873, Comstock wielded enough political influence to get the U.S. Congress to pass the Comstock Law, making it illegal to transport and deliver "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" materials. Comstock claimed to have been responsible for burning 160 tons of "obscene" literature and causing the arrest of over 3000 perpetrators in his lifetime.

In 1918, the United States Post Office burned four issues of publisher Margaret Anderson's "Little Review" magazine because they contained excerpts from James Joyce's then unpublished novel, "Ulysses." Anderson was later indicted and fined for obscenity.

In 1935, the library trustees of Warsaw, Indiana ordered that all copies of Theodore Dreiser's novels in their libraries be burned for its obscene and leftist content. As a boy, Dreiser went to school in Warsaw, Indiana.

In 1939 John Steinbeck's landmark novel, "Grapes of Wrath", about the tragic plight of migrant farm workers from the Oklahoma "dust bowl" were burned all over the country for both its political content and "vulgarity."

In the early fifties, Senator Joseph McCarthy sent his aides to search U.S. Information Service libraries for "subversive" books. This led to some of these books to be burned U.S. Information Service libraries overseas. To his credit, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a speech condemning these acts. "Don't join the book burners," he said.

In 1956, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration supervised the burning of several tons of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich's controversial works espousing his controversial theories of "orgone" sex energy.

In 1973, the Drake, North Dakota school board condemned Kurt Vonnegut's novel, "Slaughterhouse Five", as obscene, and had copies of the book burned in the high school furnace. The author then sent a letter to the head of the school board stating, "I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school. Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am."

And incidents of book burning continue into the 21st century. In 2001, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter children's books were branded as "satanic" and burned in a bonfire at a church in Alamagordo, New Mexico. In 2003, Harry Potter books were also burned in a church bonfire in Greenville, Michigan. In both cases, the clergy stated that they had never read these books.




"A look back at "The Grapes of Wrath", Cindy Mediavilla, URL: http://www.californiastories.org/programs/grapes_censorship.htm)




"Harry Potter and the Ministry of Fire", David Serchuk, Forbes, URL: (http://www.forbes.com/2006/11/30/book-burnings-potter-tech-media_cz_ds_books06_1201burn.html)






Book Burning in the 21st Century

“On Sunday evening, members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Penn Township sing songs as they burn books, videos and CDs that they have judged offensive to their God.” - Published in the Butler Eagle, March 26, 2001. Courtesy of the  Butler Eagle.

“BOOK CUTTING: Doug Taylor of the Jesus Party destroys a copy of 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone' Thursday evening in Kennedy Park. Counterprotesters decried the Christian group’s action. — Gregory Rice/Sun Journal

Published in the Sun Journal Online, November 16, 2001. Courtesy of the  Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine).

  • Jesus Party, Opposition Square Off over Potter Books, November 16, 2001.
    “Two groups of people argued over the definition of evil Thursday night in Kennedy Park. One group said it was embodied in the messages contained in the Harry Potter novels. The second group countered that evil lives in those who want to ban books and censor what men, women and children can read.”
  • Harry Potter Books Burn as Library Showcases Rowling Titles , December 30, 2001.
    “A display of Harry Potter books at the Alamogordo (N. Mex.) Public Library was a marked contrast to a December 30 book burning of works written by J. K. Rowling and others that took place outside the city’s Christ Community Church. Held on church property after a half-hour prayer service, the event drew several hundred congregants and as many as 800 counterprotesters.” See also ‘Satanic’ Harry Potter books burnt
  • S.F. gay-book slasher put on probation; Vandalism charge also a hate crime , September 19, 2002.
    “The hate crime was not book burning, it was book slashing — 607 books, to be exact. For nearly a year, someone lurked in the stacks at San Francisco's Main Library and the Chinatown branch, vandalizing books. Almost always they were volumes on gay and lesbian subjects, some of them out of print and hard to replace.”
  • Montreal-Area Jewish School Library Destroyed by Firebomb  (March 5, 2004)
    “Only one box of 25 books was salvaged from the 10,000-volume library that served some 230 students. “It’s a writeoff,” school librarian Dan Holobow said in the April 7 Toronto Globe and Mail. “Either the books are melted or they’re water-damaged beyond repair. The collection is basically gone.” See also  Prime minister condemns attack on Montreal Jewish school
  • Veterans group mulches books at county libraries (October 10, 2005)
    “Jim Cabaniss, the president of AVIDD, led a group of up to 15 supporters at times, following a flatbed truck with a mulcher tied to it, starting at 9 a.m. at the library system's central branch in Conroe to the Montgomery, Willis, New Caney, Woodlands (South Branch), and Magnolia Libraries, holding a rally at each. Cabaniss spoke from the tail of the flatbed truck on a makeshift loud speaker of the "filth and smut that have polluted our libraries." He orchestrated the shredding of 'symbolic' books—which he made clear were not the ones on the group's list but books he owned privately—representing what he wanted to do to the more than 70 titles the group was protesting.


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