ASHEBORO, N.C. — High school students in Randolph County once again can get “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison’s classic 1952 novel of alienation and racial discrimination, at school libraries. Nine days after the county school board banned the book, it reversed itself at a hastily called special meeting Wednesday night, voting 6 to 1 to return the novel to school bookshelves. Several board members apologized for the ban and said they had been chastened by an outpouring of angry objections from county residents.
The backlash caught board members by surprise. Several said they had been inundated with emails begging them to reconsider. Others conceded that they had acted rashly and should have consulted with the superintendent and rank-and-file teachers in the 16,000-student district, about 85 miles northeast of Charlotte. Several said the public reaction had opened their eyes to viewpoints they had not considered and broadened their outlook on the importance of all types of literature.
“We may have been hammered on this and we may have made a mistake, but at least we’re big enough to admit it,’’ said board member Gary Cook, who had voted for the ban but reversed himself Wednesday. The meeting, in a packed boardroom, lasted only 45 minutes. The vote to rescind the ban took a few seconds, with only board member Gary Mason dissenting. He called the book “not appropriate for young teenagers.”
The board’s abrupt reversal came in the middle of the annual Banned Books Week sponsored nationally by the American Library Assn., which celebrates the freedom to read. The association and the Kids’ Right to Read Project wrote the school board condemning the ban and asking that it be reversed.