Since 1935, Ashland, Oregon, a scenic little city nestled in the foothills of the Siskyou and Cascade mountains, has been the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, showcasing the dramatic works of Shakespeare and other writers. For many years, Judi Honore, a friendly, slightly eccentric businesswoman, has owned and operated Shakespeare Books & Antiques on Ashland’s Main Street. Until recently, the store featured a window display of literary works whose only common element is the fact that every one of them, at some time and place, has been banned.
Last summer, the Festival produced the musical “The Wiz.” Some cast members stopped by the store and noted that the banned books display included not only The Wizard of Oz, the basis for the musical, but also Little Black Sambo. The latter is a children’s story about a little boy who outwits a group of hungry tigers. Although the story takes place in India (hence, the presence of tigers), the boy is African, and illustrations depicted him as an offensive racial caricature.
After the cast members complained, Ms. Honore rearranged the display so that Sambo was not visible from the street. But she refused to remove it from her banned books display. She told an interviewer: “I have windows filled with banned books, everything from The Lorax to Harry Potter to Mein Kampf to Brave New World. I did it as an educational process…. People stand outside the window and ask why the books are banned.”
Festival staff deemed the inclusion of Sambo in the display “hurtful and offensive,” and asked Ms. Honore to take it down. She refused. Cynthia Rider, executive director of the Festival, criticized the store owner for her “distinct lack of empathy for the experiences of people of color.” The Festival publicly announced a boycott of the store, objecting not only to Little Black Sambo, but also to the inclusion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird in the banned books display.
The store closed on October 31. Continue reading