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'Invisible Man' restored to high school libraries in Randolph County

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GREENSBORO — Students in Randolph County will once again have access to Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” in their high school libraries.

The Randolph County Board of Education voted 6-1 Wednesday night to overturn a ban on the novel, board attorney Jill Wilson said. Board member Gary Mason dissented.

The group drew national headlines after voting 5-2 to ban the book 10 days earlier.

Board member Matthew Lambeth initially supported the ban because of concerns about the novel’s elements of rape and incest.

After last week’s vote, he heard from hundreds of Randolph County residents concerned about the ban and censorship.

Arguments that banning the book is a blow to students’ First Amendment rights especially moved him, Lambeth said.

“When I got to think about it, did I want to be someone who was a board member limiting the free exchange of ideas? And that is completely un-American,” Lambeth said.

The novel depicts the burden of race in early 20th Century American society as experienced by an unnamed protagonist, a young black man, who considers himself socially invisible. Ellison won the National Book Award for “Invisible Man” in 1953. The novel is also on the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged classics. Questions about it frequently appear on Advanced Placement exams.

Wilson said she asked the board to hear from district curriculum staff about its instructional value and then reconsider the book. That information was not presented at the group’s meeting last week, she said.

Lambeth said he thinks the group jumped the gun with its initial vote, acting without sufficient information about the work’s educational value, as well as a Supreme Court decision on the validity of such bans.

Such decisions must be made on a book’s educational merit and not personal qualms, Lambeth said. That hadn’t happened, he said.

Around the same time Randolph County board members OK’d a ban on “Invisible Man,” Guilford County Schools leaders took the opposite stance on a similarly controversial novel.

The Guilford County Board of Education upheld the inclusion of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in local schools despite a challenge of the novel last year due to its depictions of sex, and concerns that the book is not age appropriate and is religiously offensive.

The novel will remain an option in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, with parents getting notice that the book contains mature content and adult themes, Nora Carr, the district’s chief of staff, said in an email to board members.

"Invisible Man" will reappear on the bookshelves of Randolph County high school libraries.

The Randolph County Board of Education voted 6-1 tonight to rescind the ban it imposed last week on the classic book, according to board attorney Jill Wilson.

​Contact Marquita Brown at (336) 373-7002, and follow @mbrownk12 on Twitter.

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