Cold Sassy Tree BY Burns, Olive Ann

Meanwhile, Cold Sassy Tree was banned in a high school in Florida, which only resulted in more publicity as parents and teachers came forth to defend its virtues. (Much to Olive Ann's amusement, the principle of the school appeared on television to explain why the book was banned. "With hands shaking, she said, 'It's just an awful book. Full of rape, incest, and SOUTHERN DIALECT!'")


It is all very well to blindly decide that banning is wrong, but nothing worth believing in is fully realized until it has been challenged. In this case, we look at a book banning a racist novel. Not only was this book banned from this school district, it was banned from it twice. In a scholarly article “Eleven Years Later: A Second Successful Challenge to Eliminate the Required High School Reading of the Same Racist Novel. Part II, the Saga Continues”, Deidra discusses what happened when she had the book Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns banned from her children’s school. It was 1997 the first time she had it banned from that school district, and she was infuriated to find that just over a decade later it had reappeared in the classrooms. She describes the book in her article:

…African Americans, out of need for their services (maids, cooks and field hands), were given just a little grain of tolerance [in the novel]. However, this small level of tolerance did not erase the fact that the family members, harboring much racial animosity, constantly talked, complained, and joked about the African Americans in many and varied derogatory and demeaning ways. (Powell)

Powell’s article brings up some very difficult points. It is clear in the article that the book portrays African Americans in a very unacceptable and inaccurate way. To have this read by 9th graders seems ridiculous, clearly teaching our young people about racism. It would be easy just to accept that some books are okay to ban. This line of thinking, however, begs the question “where do we draw the line?” Do we stop at racism? What about sexism? What if there is something that portrays something else in the past that we, as a country, have done wrong? Racism may be wrong, but then so is ignoring that it happened. In addition, teaching this book in tandem of explaining where it comes from is an excellent way to get students to think critically about the world around them and how it fits in context with their lives. It is up to both the teacher and the student to explore this thinking together.