Dear Friend of Frank,
With credit to a clever author:
Alas they've come for Dr. SEUSS, they wish to hang him with a noose.
They claim his tales were racist bent, they judged him fast, missed what he
But if we look inside his tales, you'll find the balance of the scales.
Remember when Horton heard a Who, and we heard the wisdom of the Lorax
The lesson behind Green Eggs and Ham, that changed the mind of Sam I am.
Remember too the rotten Grinch, who once would never give an inch.
He taught us lessons, one and all, boys and girls, big and small.
So if you've judged his works as poor, you should re- read them, I implore.
The man we know as Dr. SEUSS, turned our imaginations loose.
His impact was beyond compare, he taught us it was good to care.
To accept the red, the blue, the green, and on each other we can lean.
So if you still won't give an inch, your heart has hardened like the Grinch.
Release the grudge, the hate, the rue, and embrace the hope of Cindy Lou.
Posted on Facebook by a friend, Jeff Smullin, who reposted it from an unnamed other friend, the anonymous author.
I am ancient enough to report that I read and loved McElligott's Pool and To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street as the kid for whom they were written. I even remember where I read them: The neoclassical Blackstone Branch of the Chicago Public Library.
The Blackstone Library today. Source: Wikipedia
These two titles, plus four others from Dr. Seuss's early work, are now officially out of print, withdrawn by the estate of the good doctor. ("Dr. Seuss" was the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel, the late, beloved author of dozens of books for children illustrated with his characteristic quirky drawings. All but these six works will remain in print.)
The six titles were withdrawn for depictions now viewed as offensive, including Chinese characters drawn with slits for eyes, and Black characters attired as if for the African bush.
Mulberry Street, the first children's book published under the Seuss pen name, came out in 1937.
Gee, 1937. America was a really different place in 1937.The Depression was still on. The Communist party had millions of adherents and was semi-respectable. War was on the horizon. And Blacks were being lynched in the South. They were fleeing North by the millions, boarding the Illinois Central in Mississippi and coming to my sweet home Chicago in pursuit of the American Dream: A better life with good jobs, good homes and respect. They found the first, if not the second or the third.
And "Amos 'n' Andy" was on the radio. In 1937 it had already been on the radio for nine years. It was hugely popular—with everyone. White, Brown, Black ... everyone. If you had a radio, chances are you caught "Amos 'n' Andy"—and everyone had a radio. There was no TV, there was no Facebook, no Twitter Instagram Parler 4Chan 8Kun yada yada. Radio was popular culture.
"Amos 'n' Andy" was often criticized, with good reason. It featured stereotyped Black characters voiced by white actors (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll). But these characters were human beings -- flawed, laughable, but lovable too. It was their humanity, I believe, that endeared them to Blacks.
That and the fact that Blacks could see themselves. Amos drove a cab and was a hard-working dedicated family man. The Kingfish was a henpecked braggart full of get-rich-quick schemes that often ended with him getting egg on his face. Of a summer night, the voices of The Kingfish and his shrew wife Sapphire would waft from every window in the all-Black neighborhood known as Bronzeville, a/k/a Chicago's Harlem. You can look this up. I have.
Gosden ("Amos") and Correll ("Andy"), 1929. Source: Wikipedia
And "Amos 'n' Andy" was not an isolated phenomenon. It's uncomfortable to say what I'm about to say after the cop murder of George Floyd and everything else we've been through, but I feel compelled to remind you just how different those times were.
Take foreign accents. Today many of us detest comedy that makes fun of them but "Life with Luigi," featuring an Italian immigrant who spoke in a dis-a dese-a accent, went on CBS Radio in 1948 and didn't leave the air until 1953. Today many of us reject portrayals of Blacks as less than strong, less than powerful. But one of the most popular movies in 1948 was Disney's "Song of the South," based on the tales of an ex-slave ("Uncle Remus") as told to two camera-ready white children who, despite their ages, are clearly are his social superiors.
The Uncle Remus tales are based on the work of a white Southerner, Joel Chandler Harris, during the 1870s and 1880s -- the height of Reconstruction, when the South won back its racist past despite losing the Civil War. They feature a wily Bre'r Rabbit outfoxing a flummoxed Bre'r Fox and a bumbling Bre'r Bear. In the movie, the human characters are actors but the animals are animations. They may look like Disneyfied bunnies, bears and foxes, but they're unmistakably stand-ins for Black Americans during slavery and Reconstruction times.
Bre'r Rabbit statue in Eatonton GA, Joel Chandler Harris's birthplace.Source: Wikipedia
The Uncle Remus tales were a hit with readers and Song of the South was a hit for Disney. "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" won the 1948 Oscar for Best Original Song.
Song of the South was a hit with little Frankie Jober too. I read the book, reread it and reread it again. In fourth or fifth grade, I went before my class and told (and acted out) those beloved tales, complete with y'alls and yassuhs.
I'm, um, white. Yeah, I know, nothing to be proud of. I meant no harm. I was sharing what I loved. I was 9 years old, for crying out loud. It was a different time. A really different time.
There were protests though. The National Negro Congress put up picket lines around theaters. The movie was withdrawn from circulation. You can't watch it on Netflix now. I scored a DVD. The kindest thing I can say about Song of the South is that it's patronizing. The worst is that it's a rather crummy movie.
Which brings us back to Dr. Seuss.
Books should not be suppressed. Never. Even the worst trash, even racist trash. Let people read and decide for themselves. That's what I believe.
Take Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884 but set in slavery times. Huck makes liberal use of the N-word. Huck has been banned, burned, excoriated and condemned, removed from reading list upon reading list, kept from inquiring teen minds coast to coast because of that word alone. Stripped of context, it turns off readers of all races and colors.
I loathe that word. I never use it myself and I cringe when others, whether Black or White, do so. But context matters. When I read the word coming out of Huck's mouth, it's natural, it's right. If Huck said "African-American" instead, wouldn't you throw the book in the trash? I would.
Because if there is a Great American Novel, it is Huckleberry Finn. And the reason hinges on that offensive word.
With humor, grace and gritty reality, Huck addresses the American dilemma of race. Huck himself is a child of his times, a racist little good-for-nothing piece of white trash. Every other word out of his mouth starts with N.
But Huck's fortunes become tied to those of the escaped slave Jim. Huck believes, as did most Whites in slaveholding Missouri, that Blacks didn't deserve the kindness of whites. But Huck loves Jim. And when he must decide whether to help Jim escape to freedom and therefore burn in Hell forever, Huck says: "All right, then, I'll go to hell." I can't read that line without choking up.
And this: Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn for adults and young adults, while Dr. Seuss wrote Mulberry Street for 6-year-olds. Uh oh. What is it I actually do believe?
I believe it's a good idea to take these six books out of print, is what. If I were the father of a teen-ager (I was), I would defend Huckleberry Finn with all my heart. But a 6-year-old and a teen-ager are not the same thing. Teen-agers are in the business of getting life experience to think and judge for themselves. Six-year-olds are ... 6-year-olds.
Dr. Seuss published more than 60 books. The six that have been withdrawn are less than 10% of that total. The Cat, the Grinch and the Lorax aren't going anywhere. Let those six books fall out of print and Godspeed.
Were he alive today, I think Dr. Seuss would agree.
Frank S Joseph, Author, The "Chicago Trilogy"
P.S. You haven't heard from me in ages. That's because I have nothing to promote. I've always been open about my ulterior motive for writing this e-blast or blog or whatever it is. I'm an author promoting my novels. Well, right now I'm an author in search of a publisher to publish said novels and hey whaddya know, there may be a publisher in sight. No deal yet but watch this space.
Frank S Joseph, Author · 5617 Warwick Pl. · Chevy Chase, MARYLAND 20815-5503 · USA